In my family that meant camping. Five of us in the same tent living in mortal fear of seeing each in any state of undress. Three of us were kids, welded together because my step brother and sister’s mum had married my dad – and we all hated camping. We had seen people camping on “John Craven’s Newsround” and they were invariably refugees forced to live under canvas. The poor unfortunate bastards, and here we were mocking them by living like that on purpose.
But…… My great grandmother, a wicked and evil bitch, hardened by half a life in India, used to delight in telling stories that inspired great terror in small children. As well as telling me that the man in the moon was staring at me she convinced me that witches could spring from a freshly flushed toilet.
So I would stand in bare feet on a damp concrete floor with one hand on the lavatory chain and one hand on the bog door. Then a sharp yank and away I would dash, back towards our tent, gripped with too much fear to look back or even to care where I was going. A guy rope would often trip and send me crashing to the dewy grass. A silent scream, would be bitten off, lest I be given away. Then, up and skulking, I would have to consider which tent was my family’s. What if I went in the wrong one – I would most likely be humiliated before the entire campsite in the morning as a thief and a pervert – and they would probably all agree that killing me was the only answer.
When not hiking up some god forsaken hill or down some
prickly valley we could either add to our collection of insect bites, peel the
skin from our sunburn or swim in the sea amidst the bobbing turds. Communal camp site games would occasionally
break out with strangers from other tents where you would be expected to either
try beyond your capabilities or (worse) to not try too hard if the other families
were fat or feeble. In the event of rain we would still be forced to march
pointlessly along endless paths or about in the bracken getting scratched and
stung but games would move indoors. Board games would quickly mutate into
sadistic rituals where winning was secondary to forcing others to lose and card
games were outrageously competitive. My father stooping as low as purchasing a
deck of cards with pictures of nude ladies on them – presumably to put the rest
of us off. In retrospect it’s amazing we weren’t taken into care. Instead the party
was added to by a dog. Ben, a sheep dog/collie cross, was the best, cleverest
and sweetest dog I have ever met but on long car journeys he would pant and
slobber down your neck and in the night
was another obstacle to overcome on the expedition to the toilets. I accidently
trod on his tail one night and the ensuing commotion woke people up for over
half a mile.
So yes I hate f***ing camping. I could no sooner erect a tent than I could re-wire The Large Hadron Collider (which has been causing all these earthquakes by the way. Probably.) – Except that yes I can and chucking down a bottle of wine then climbing into a toasty sleeping bag is blissful.
We camped in the Badlands, woke to a spectacular view in fresh tingly air then drove to Keystone, where the campsite had showers and a pool and wild deer so bold that they came within yards of our tent. We saw the peculiar vandalism that is Mount Rushmore and the work in progress that is the, soon to be competing, Crazy Horse Monument and we slept like babies. Who would have thought?