The last time I went properly camping was in 1985, in Scotland. I was a CCF Staff Sargent leading a troop of men on exercise. This makes it all sound rather though, windswept, brave and fearless but it was essentially a school thing. We were staying in an army barracks for a week with a three-day trek under canvas. The tents, equipment and food were all left over from the Second World War and, although it was sunny and hot, it was still camping. It came complete with all the smells and total lack of facilities that goes with the life of tenting. Yes, you may get to see the stars at night against a clear sky but that’s not really much consolation when you’re digging your own latrine.
Some thirty-one years on much has changed. Six Prime Ministers, four governments, three major conflicts, the advent of mobile phones, digital data, social media, the UK leaving the EU yet there are still many constants to tenting and, it seems, to those who enjoy it. A certain type of person loves camping and I am not one of them. No sane adult possible can.
Caravaning is, of course, something quite else. Not only is it an annoyance to anyone who lives close to or has to use the M5 from Easter until November, they have a club. This can only be where they probably share stories of hogging the middle lane, the best places to empty their chemical toilets and where the press button for the shower in the show block stays in for “just that little bit longer”. If you have a caravan it seems you don’t want to use the equipment it comes with for some unknown reason. If Theresa May really wants to go to the country early, say this Autumn, circumventing the Fix Term Parliament Act of 2010, then a vote winner for me would be ‘caravans can only travel on the UK’s motorway network between 11pm and 6am. This would be a sound policy for a less congested Britain.
Children love camping and it is easy to see why as a parent. All the things you want them to do in the real, normal world like wash, brush their teeth or behave goes out of the window (or tent flap) when you take children camping. You can’t make them do any of these things and many other real world things when it takes twice as long, requires the constant emptying of a chemical toilet or a long trip to the toilet block or the shower block.
Camp toilet blocks shower blocks. These are something else that has not changed in over thirty years. Not since I left school have I smelt those smell or heard those sounds. A thin Formica clad door slamming shut complete with that grind of a sliding plastic latch closing. And then there is that smell combined with a disguising “whistle”. One must always remember to have checked that there is sufficient paper.
One evening, while I washing up in the washing up block (bring your own plug), which was attached to the toilet block (this was a twice daily trek to avoid filling the chemical toilet cassette “unnecessarily”) there were two other men going through the same motions and emotions. One man told the other that he always went camping, ever year, and that he and his family loved the freedom. This was their first time abroad. In a tent. The other recounted how he had to get a new tent this year as his previous tenting habitat had “perished” over the winter. He went on, with huge pride, about how it only took a couple of hours to put up his new tent where he and his four children were “happily” staying. A couple of hours! Four children?! When you go on holiday you don’t normally have to build the hotel room you’re staying in or share it with five others, even if they are your nearest and dearest. There is also a sound principle when you do go on holiday. It should be somewhere better, more comfortable and possibly a tad more luxurious than where you live for the other fifty weeks of the year.
There is, however, one singular, huge plus to camping if you are a parent. You get to spend real-time, proper time with your children when they are young and still want to spend real-time with you. This is truly precious and beyond compare. Quite why you would go camping or caravaning otherwise, as a couple, is beyond me. Maybe it is so you can sit in stony silence under canvass or in a tin box on wheels dreading when it is your turn to empty the chemical toilet.