Carry on camping – but don’t invite me
With camping holidays as much a part of the British national identity as talking about the weather, Kate Birch decides she needs to gear up, grit her teeth and give it a go… if only for the kids
It’s the middle of the night in the middle of a field in the middle of England and I’m sitting inside a tent – sore, shivering and surrounded by snores. Awoken at midnight by my fit-to-burst bladder, I spend the next agonisingly painful 90 minutes contemplating whether to pee in a bucket or trek half a mile in the dark and driving rain to the loos. I decide on neither. Instead, I cry.
Welcome to my UK staycation summer holiday: six days and seven long nights with hubby and kids, staying in a 10-foot-by-8-foot tent in a field. In retrospect, I’d like to believe I was talked into this. I wasn’t. I was inspired by childhood camping memories – glorious weather, fabulous food and lots of laughs. The thing about childhood is that you see everything through a child’s eyes… rosy, happy, fun.
So, weighed down by nostalgia and blown away by the beautiful images of happy families rolling around in long grass in the Cool Camping Britain book, it was with relish, rather than reluctance, that I piled our car high with camping kit. Camping myth number one busted: camping is not cheap.
Our arrival at the very basic campsite (think loos, one shower) was pretty smooth, marred only by the ‘missing mallet’… my fault, apparently. “Someone always forgets something,” joked our rather-too-close-for-comfort perma-smiling neighbour, who laughed just a little too loudly and eyed her husband with what seemed like deep resentment. Or was I imagining it?
By the time our tent was up – three hours later – my own husband and I were not on speaking terms, a situation that in a decade of togetherness had never arisen. Things did not improve.
To cut a long and agonising story short, it rained for three consecutive days and nights, leaving everything and everyone soaked, including the inside of the tent. And it was here among the carnage – creepy crawlies in my knicker bag, mud in my sleeping bag – we holidayed… eating, sleeping, dressing and driving each other up the canvas. It’s not like you can escape to another room for peace.
But sadly, lack of space was the least of my camping complaints. Not since having a colicky baby have I experienced such sleep deprivation, what with the never-ending noise (loud snores and animal sounds), the interminable discomfort (itchy synthetic sleeping bag and frozen feet) and the paralysing fear that some knife-wielding maniac might kill us in our blow-up beds.
This was followed by dreary days in the same dirty dwelling playing endless games of ‘monotonous Monopoly’, broken only by sporadic sprints to the equally dirty bathrooms. And all this is made 20 times worse by the sincerely smiling faces of the ‘glamping’ (five-star camping in cabins with all mod cons) families in the next field.
“That’s not real camping,” asserts our neighbour Pitcher Pete (so-called because of his expertise with tent erection) when – wrapped in my sleeping bag and drinking from a cracked plastic cup – he catches me looking longingly at the glampers’ glowing faces (combined effect of the TV and fire).
But this is all child’s play compared to camping’s domestic drudgery: cooking three meals a day for five on a burner with all the power of a candle or attempting to eat burnt-yet-raw burgers with a shared-between-five plastic fork… because you also forgot the forks, apparently. Two days in and I wanted to bail. I had visions of escape… legging it to the closest coffee shop, caravan, cave. Even a prison would have been preferable.
Was I the only one who felt such despair? Were all the other parents really having a ‘glorious time’ as they kept loudly exclaiming or were they, like me, just faking the fun?
By day three, I swear I could see the suppressed agony on the perma-smiling neighbours’ faces: dad wriggling uncomfortably in his soggy socks as he opened his tenth tin of baked beans; while mum, mud on face, feigned far-too-much-to-be-credible enjoyment at attempting to light the stove with wet matches.
I wasn’t alone… they hated it too. A fact I discovered upon my return home when I read a survey by Holiday Extras, revealing that 90 per cent of Brits consider camping the least enjoyable type of break. Yes!
But if that’s so, why are 17 million of them (2011 Great Britain Tourism Survey) doing it? Well, apart from the fact they think it’s cheap (it’s not), camping is having a retro resurgence, especially among the middle classes.
I reckon they do it to punish themselves… a week of misery to make up for the other 51 weeks of luxury they live. It’s masochistic, monotonous martyrdom. Why else would anyone endure such a miserable uncivilised practice that provides much less convenience and comfort than being at home… and then pay for the privilege?
“We do it for the kids,” explains perma-smiling mum, who on the last day I discover hiding out in the woods, clearly trying to avoid said kids.
But I’m no martyr mom. So next year, I’m putting up the tent in my garden just ‘for the kids’… while I sit in the warmth on my comfy sofa, conducting my Campers Survivors Support Group.