Badlands to Keystone Camping and Peculiar Vandalism

View From Tent in the Badlands

Back in the 1970’s the summer went on for years. When school broke up a child could forget everything he had learnt in class secure in the knowledge that any consequence was so far off as to not matter.
The only blight on this sprawling eternity of 26-a-side football or cricket, war games and re-runs of “Robinson Crusoe”,” Banana Splits” and “Daktari” was actually having to go on holiday. With your family.
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.
With no bloody telly. Episodes of “Crackerjack” and “Basil Brush” slipped by never to be seen again. Eating tinned food off plastic plates with impossibly flexible knives and forks. Being route marched through Wales or the bloody Peak District during the day and then abandoned at night because our parents had gone to the pub to escape our incessant moaning, sulking and impenetrable misery.
The only highlight being that they would bring us drink to shut us up when they got back. Bottles of cider. I think I was 8 when we first went away – make of that what you will. I loved that giddy sway to the communal toilets on the other side of the field. Of course no sooner was everybody zipped up in their sleeping bags than the urge for another giddy sway across the field would fall upon me. But what fresh hell is a zip in a camp site in the dead of night. To the zipper it sounds like you are kicking a drum kit down a fire escape. First the one on the sleeping bag, then the one on the inner partition that kept my brother and I separated from sister and parents, then the one on the front of the tent that was often double-pegged into the ground in a feeble attempt at security. Then a blind stumble through a wet field to a stinking toilet. Sweet Relief.
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?

Crazy Horse Monument (work in progress)

Right Song at the Right Moment: “Swing Life Away” – Rise Against on Alt Nation Radio .
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