To all in tents

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - SUSAN KURO­SAWA

Let’s go camp­ing again in a leaky tent in the worst rain in a decade and for­get the can opener and dis­cover the dice is miss­ing from the Mo­nop­oly set. Said no-one ever. Funny, though, how time can throw a rosy, gauzy glow over mis­ad­ven­tures past and we can even be­come oddly nos­tal­gic about ghastly hol­i­days. Surely they weren’t really that bad. Times have changed. Worth an­other go.

My par­ents had a stoic view of Eng­land’s Brighton Beach when I was grow­ing up. It didn’t seem to oc­cur to them to try some­where new each sum­mer. Just the once we in­ter­rupted nor­mal trans­mis­sion to ven­ture to the Lake Dis­trict but it was an un­mit­i­gated dis­as­ter. Mother twisted her an­kle, I left Ed­ward Bear on the train and it took days for him to reap­pear, cour­tesy of a kindly sta­tion­mas­ter, and when stray ash burned a hole in Dad’s best tweed jacket, he de­cided the gods of hol­i­day were sneer­ing at us for our flight­i­ness. So back to Brighton we went next year, to the same board­ing house, where the man­ager gave us a know­ing look and pun­ished us by giv­ing away our usual room to up­start new­com­ers.

Then my school chum El­iza in­vited me to go camp­ing with her fam­ily. Oh, the thrill of it all. Mother and Dad rolled their eyes and told me it wouldn’t be like Brighton. “There’ll be no lux­u­ries,” said Mother, some­what obliquely. Lux­ury, ap­par­ently, was a proper roof over your head and the knowl­edge that Fri­days meant fish and chips. But I begged and begged and they let me go.

El­iza’s par­ents had a car­a­van, which seemed im­poss- ibly ro­man­tic, but that wasn’t for the chil­dren. El­iza, her lit­tle brother Peter and I were rel­e­gated un­der can­vas in a sort of an­nex. It was com­pletely open to rol­lick­ing winds on one side and El­iza and I slept top-to-toe on a stretcher bed while Peter had a sleep­ing bag on the ground. Their cairn ter­rier, Hamish, took a lik­ing to me and so buried him­self into my chest to sleep. He was a dead weight and smelt like a damp woolly jumper.

Camp­ing food came in cans. We played board games by torch­light but pieces were al­ways miss­ing and then Hamish ate a plas­tic disk from the Tid­dly­winks set and El­iza and I got into bags of trou­ble when he al­most choked. Peter tried to run away. I had fleas.

I cried when I ar­rived home. Mother and Dad ap­plied some kind of fu­mi­gat­ing lo­tion to my itchy skin and were kind enough not to say they had told me so. I never com­plained again about Brighton.

It was 30 years later that I tried the camp­ing malarky again. My then part­ner talked me into it quite eas­ily. Some in­ner part of me blamed my­self for the ear­lier dis­as­ter. I hadn’t tried hard enough and maybe I was mis­re­mem­ber­ing that it was aw­ful. Let’s just say no lit­tle ter­rier came to harm this sec­ond time around but the re­la­tion­ship gagged amid col­laps­ing tent-pegs, Spam on toast and an in­va­sion of midges. I then re­alised I had been wrong to judge Mother and Dad so harshly. Brighton Beach was what it was, year in and out. Not per­fect, not ex­cit­ing, but not such a bad place to call a hol­i­day home.

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