To all in tents
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.