Is there a more wonderful feeling than relaxing in a comfortable chair nursing a cup of warm tea holding open a book you’re really enjoying knowing you’ve got a nice hot bath running and a soft bed layered with fresh sheets waiting for you to climb into? Maybe later, after another half-hour’s read in bed, you can go back downstairs – stairs covered in plush, quality carpet that feels luscious underfoot – to the clean, cool fridge-freezer where you can treat yourself, just the once, to a not-so-healthy supper snack – a blob of delicious ice cream perhaps or, if you walk a little further to the cupboard, a naughty packet of cheese and onion crisps.
It’s so easy to take life’s simple luxuries for granted. One way I’ve found to remind myself just how grateful I am for those simple homely pleasures is to go camping. A decade or so ago, when my would-be mother-in-law asked me if I enjoyed what she described as their family’s “favourite weekend thing to do”, I lied and said “yes”. I just wanted to please. Boy did I live to regret that moment. My answer couldn’t have been further from the truth.
I’ve had a few good experiences under canvas – one in the Dolomites (you can’t not wake up to those views in awe) and one in Wales (the facilities were excellent and the people were very friendly even though it rained all week), but over the years, if you lay the facts out on the table, my tenting days haven’t gone especially smoothly.
Arguably the worst experience ever was in Cyprus where myself and my boyfriend pitched up near a beach for an entire week in bake-off temperatures. In theory, it sounded great. Surrounded by trees, I assumed the nights would be a respite from soaring daytime heat, but instead of cool, twelve midnight onwards was absolutely toe-numbingly freezing. And that wasn’t all. Owing to a – *spoiler alert* – painful period and the fact that I had to lie on one half of a blow-up mattress that wouldn’t hold its shape for more than twenty minutes before needing to be blown up again, I barely slept a wink. When I did occasionally nod off out of pure exhaustion something bizarrely unpleasant tended to happen to wake me up again.
Every night started the same. My boyfriend offered to let me lie on the half of the blow-up mattress that still boasted a working valve; I lovingly refused because I’m a raving stupid lunatic. While he settled down to a decent sleep, I lay there staring up at the flimsy tent material. To my continued frustration, however still I lay, my arse then gradually sank closer to the hard, lumpy frozen ground leaving me with a pain in the hips which became more serious as the week went on. One time I woke up to the discovery that I’d been sleeping on a live toad. During another, I reached out to take a sip of water from one of those drinking bottles with the suck-nozzles only to find an earwig stuck in there trying to beat me to it. Other campers snored so loudly I was sure I could see our tent flapping in the nasal breeze and every time nature called I had to crawl on my hands and knees out through a spider-infested exit hole and walk three-hundred paces in the cold to a spider-infested toilet without light, soap or tissues.
For me, a typical camping trip goes like this:
- Arriving in a waterlogged field and spending two hours trying to stab tent pegs into mush.
- Arriving in a parched, summer field and spending two hours trying to stab bits of metal into rock-solid soil.
- Getting out a massive lunchtime picnic and laying it out on a postage-stamp-sized rug only to sit down and bring the first scotch egg towards your mouth for the heavens to open and everything to get soaked.
- Spotting a large hungry dog from the opposite side of camp bounding towards you as you try to shove the picnic in through the tent opening and wondering how you can save the sausage rolls.
- Asking yourself if eight bottles of cheap wine is acceptable as a mid-afternoon snack and, after reasonable deliberation, concluding it is.
- Resisting the urge to pack up and go home and instead contenting yourself with looking forward to a barbecue that will be so gigantic and meat-rich you’ll feel bloated all night.
- Eating six burgers, five hot dogs, three packs of crisps and more tomatoes than you’d normally consume in a year for dinner, then trying to beat a bunch of kids at swing ball.
- Finding the dog you met earlier somehow inside your tent greedily finishing off the barbecue leftovers you’d planned to eat for breakfast.
- Succumbing to a strong desire to go to the pub and remind yourself how civilised people eat and drink, but wearing mud-spattered dungarees and Wellington boots and sporting hair that gives the distinct impression you’ve been hiding from your own government for two decades.
- Sleeping in a position most terrorist interrogators wouldn’t put their suspects through.
So, no, I do not really enjoy camping. No, I do not enjoy lying awake trying to figure out which wild animal is currently nuzzling the ground outside the tent. No, I do not enjoy mornings where I must emerge, on all fours, a frozen lump of a woman with saggy soggy clothes and a neck so stiff it could rival London’s Shard. No, I do not like feeling or looking like a muddy-booted, headlamp-wearing, baked bean-eating weirdo all day – or meeting a bunch of other muddy-booted, headlamp-wearing, baked bean-eating weirdos. My slipper-loving, book-sniffing, bath-lounging DNA says no.
But, even after twenty years together – during which time you’d think common sense would prevail – my other half regularly says, “yes”. Yes, we’re still going camping this weekend, even though you hate blow-up mattresses. Yes, we’re going camping this summer for two weeks in Spain, even though the baking heat in the mornings drives you crazy. Yes, from now on, whenever we go abroad, we’ll be saving money by camping, not paying for “fancy” hotels with beds and carpets and toilets that flush. Yes to camping, in all its dysfunctional forms. Thankfully, good old books come to my rescue again – reading and writing stories is the only way I survive any week under nylon.
Do you love the outdoors, hiking, cycling, jogging, picnicking, walking up mountains, sitting by lakes, going to festivals in the rain, visiting gardens, driving into the countryside, reading in deck chairs – everything but camping? Great minds think alike, as they say. Get in touch and share your brutal tent-style experiences.
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