Pass me the tent pegs!

As summer approaches a strange phenomenon sweeps across our great nation. People of all ages turn their backs on their brick built cosy weatherproof dwellings and choose instead to spend their nights huddled under thin canvas sheets in the arse end of nowhere, on squeaky airbeds with slow punctures that leaves you with chronic sciatica. They do this bizarrely as a holiday, swapping everyday life for the stress of living like a road protester angry about the development of a new bypass. We’ve done it for years and these days it’s as popular as ever. A recent survey conducted by Go Outdoors revealed that 58% of Britain’s campers go camping more than three times a year. The same survey also revealed that given the chance to pick your perfect camping partner men would choose Ray Mears or David Attenborough whilst the women would go for Bear Grylls. I can’t help thinking that the men didn’t quite think that question through. I’m guessing that whilst the men would be off in the woods asking Ray to whittle them something from a tree branch, naughty old Bear would be in the tent with your other half, doing some whittling of a very different kind.

I have mixed feelings about choosing to holiday under canvas. “It’s a great bonding experience for all the family” was one camper’s viewpoint. I beg to differ; if things are tense with your family before, spending seven nights in a cagoule eating cup-a-soup in the Breacon Beacons frankly won’t improve matters.

These people weren’t born; they were grown in sleeping bags like caterpillars in a chrysalis.

Recently I took my six year old daughter camping for the first time. She was so excited, “it’s going to be great daddy, camp fires, falling asleep under the stars and bacon sandwiches for breakfast!” I reminded her that we were going to a field near Calverton, half a mile from the A46 and she should perhaps lower her expectations. Still, it was nice to have the enthusiasm. This expedition was part of the annual Beavers, Scouts and Cubs get away. It was our first time and it would just be Olivia and I representing the Bennett clan. My wife did suggest going as a family, but then I reminded her that having a screaming baby on a campsite would be as welcome as E-coli, so we decided against it. I was only just recovering from having taken the family on an aeroplane for the first time; it was learning experience, and I learnt that a baby is the only thing less popular on an aeroplane than a bomb.

Arriving at the camp I was confronted by some of the most naturally gifted campers (is that even a thing?) I’d ever come across. These people weren’t born; they were grown in sleeping bags like caterpillars in a chrysalis. Before I’d even reached for my rubber mallet, I was surrounded by perfectly pitched tents and the sound of kettles smugly whistling. I’d seen organisation like this before, many years ago when I went on my last caravanning holiday with my parents; two weeks in Morecambe, a chemical toilet and getting hammered on little bottles of Beer D’Alsace from Asda, which often took several days as it was only 2.5% a bottle. I remember watching a couple pitch up opposite, it was quite simply stunning. Him in his tan shorts, sandals, caravan club polo shirt and those shades with the flip up lenses; she was wearing the same. They barely spoke, just the occasional nod or gesture, as they glided around the pitch fetching water, lowering jockey wheels and putting up awnings. It was graceful, like watching Roger Federer play tennis. In no time at all they were both sat down on matching deckchairs, cup of tea in one hand, cigarette in the other, basking in an almost post coital level of satisfaction.

I finally attracted the attention of a scout leader who, once he had finished laughing, came to my aid.

My daydream was brutally interrupted as I realised, stood in that field in Calverton, clutching my mallet, that I hadn’t got a bloody clue how to put up our tent. I was, quite literally, for the first time in years, not able to put a roof over my daughters head. My wife suggested we do a trial run before we went, I suggested she was being ridiculous, “it’s a couple of poles and some pegs love, I’ve got a degree, I think I’ll manage, how hard can it be?”  Well almost impossible as it happens, “Daddy, why aren’t you finished yet? Do you need help?” “Daddy is just thinking darling” I was thinking, thinking about sleeping in the car. After nearly an hour, which culminated in me zipping myself inside the liner and my daughter hammering tent pegs into the ground at various locations across the site, I finally attracted the attention of a scout leader who, once he had finished laughing, came to my aid.

There are some people who scoff at us amateur campers. With our airbeds artic rated sleeping bags and pitching up within yards of a fully furnished toilet block. These people are the wild campers. These lunatics are like scouts on steroids, wherever they lay their groundsheet then that’s their home. They can read the land like Sherpas, all they need is a stream, a machete and a tree to defecate behind and they are as happy as the Kardashian’s on a shopping spree. They often live off the land; foraging for mushrooms with the chance that if you make a mistake you’ll either end up dead or hallucinating. I’m all for adventure but having to hunt your dinner and wash your genitals in a puddle somehow seems like a backwards step to me. A friend of ours had their cat bring back a half dead pigeon recently and they had to do the decent thing and finish it off with a house brick, it took ages,  imagine going through all that then sitting down to a starter.

Camping and festivals are well acquainted bedfellows. Recently at a festival I was performing at, fancy dress seemed to be the order of the weekend. There were a variety of weird and wonderful costumes on display. A gang of lads dressed as Superheroes; Spiderman, Batman, Superman and bringing up the rear, a Crayola crayon. He was shuffling his little legs trying to keep up. They were giving him a hard time, Superman shouted; “Kev, you look daft pal, what were you thinking!” “I didn’t get the email, this is all they had!” was his reply. I bumped into a rather depressed looking Super Mario brother by the Portaloos. Rather worse for wear and struggling to keep his makeshift insulation tape moustache adhered to his top lip, he was complaining about the state of the facilities, “These toilets aren’t right, there’s stuff leaking everywhere, it’s a disgrace, someone should do something about this!” “Don’t moan to me,” I said, “you’re the plumber son.”

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