We are on a summer family camping holiday on the South Coast of England right now. That is to say we are actually in a traffic jam in the pouring rain on our way to slot an endless amount of copper coins into the two penny machines in a smelly arcade on the end of a pier with a million other families at their wit’s end.
We have had a good few days, where we were living a dreamlike life where camping fully met our grand expectations. And then the rain set in, and now it feels like it has been raining solidly for a year, even though it’s only really been three days.
Expectation: The campsite is only 100 miles from home- we shall set off at 9:30 am, arrive in the late morning, quickly set up camp and spend the rest of the day on the beach skimming stones, reading novels and revelling in our scout-like efficiency.
Reality: A multitude of external factors thwart our ability to get out of the house, and then when we are finally sitting in the car, little Juno finds a jar of tumeric (!) that has been last-minutely thrown in and rubs a fistful in her eye. After sorting that out, a full fifty minutes is then spent “just dashing in” to the house for those necessaties such as:
A deflated My Little Pony balloon
The barbie leg that fell off
The massive donkey on wheels
A spare Minnie Mouse onesie (hello? Don’t the kids know we are going on a seaside camping holiday and it’s going to be super hot the whole time?) (We will end up not regretting these mad-dash warm clothing runs…)
The wooden flute that whistles like a train (we will regret this with every milimetre of our ear canals)
We’ll be in traffic for almost the entirity of the M4, will arrive at dusk, panic about the best spot to pitch the tent and end up sticking it on a hill.
Expectation: Erecting (huhuh you said erecting) the tent will be a family team building exercise- the girls will joyfully hand us the pegs, each one of us excelling at our appointed roles, spurring each other on through the darkening sky.
Reality: The girls go absolutely nuts with glee about the fact that mum and dad have so willingly, despite a day stuck in traffic and a quickly setting sun, put on the ultimate activity for their benefit- PARACHUTE GAMES! We know this one! We run under the flappy material and we try and grab it and hold the ages and run in circles then we sit on it and run over it and try and tear it from each other’s grasps thanks mum and dad oh thank you we LOVE THIS oh why are you crying? The whole thing made bearable only because we keep finding different reasons to say “erecting.”
Expectation: Meals are like “Jamie Oliver visits River Cottage” – we forage for some herbs and throw them in to the fish that we caught that’s baking on the embers of the fire we built.
Reality: The pan of pre-cooked rice mixed with baked beans and a tin of sweet corn topples off the precariously balanced Bunsen burner thingy and is scooped back into the saucepan because the three second rule is not a myth I don’t care what you say.
Expectation: we fly a kite and sing the song from Mary Poppins and connect as a family in our kite flying joy.
Reality: the parrot kite we bought is neither ornament nor function and by the time we have it in the sky the girls have lost interest but in order to keep it in the sky I have to run with it and yet still, every 20 seconds it’s enormous carnival coloured head outweighs its body and it comes crashing down, narrowly missing small children.
Expectation: I’ll manage a few days without embarrassing myself. (How can this still be an ambition of mine? With everything I know?)
Reality: I walk past the loo in the middle of the field and notice that the foggy Perspex windows actually reveals an awful lot of what is going on and I’ll remember how just that morning I decided that I didn’t want to sit on the loo with my Kermit the frog onesie around my ankles because the floor looked wet in a dubious sort of a way so I took the whole thing off and then got tangled up as I put it back on a few minutes and stumbled around a bit. And I imagine other campers referring to me as Nudey Kermit or something.
Expectation: The sun is going to be so deliciously sunshiney that we’ll have to smother ourselves in this ludicrously expensive non toxic sun cream.
Reality: rain. The sort of rain that makes me think it might never stop. Like when I went overdue and I began to feel like I genuinely might be the first woman in the whole of history to be pregnant forever. This is definitely the start of The Everlasting Rains.
Reality: I swim once and although I LOVE it it takes me three hours to get warm despite putting every spare item we have on down there including a Dora The Explorer towel cloak. In fact, I only get warm back at the tent when I put on my Kermit onesie.
Expectation: sitting around a fire as the sun sets.
Reality: sitting around a fire in the drizzle, the sun could be setting but who knows as we haven’t seen it for yonks, the smoke changes direction every time I move- who KNEW my face was such a smoke- magnet. There are marshmallows, caught alight and black on the outside, perfectly rubbery on the inside and campfire songs are replaced by the deep, raging howls of the children that missed out on the last marshmallow in the packet.
Expectation: Balmy nights sitting on our hill top spot, counting shooting stars.
Reality: Falling asleep when the children go to bed because it takes too much energy to get up from the deflated air bed.
Expectation: Lolling on fields filled with sunshine and wild flowers and fellow campers all drinking tea or locally brewed cider. Like a festival but without the expensive ticket and loud noises.
Reality: Fog. Fog so thick it is like a stew with lumps of canvas poking out of it. Dismembered limbs and heads appear calling for their children. The once-playful sound of kids shooting machine guns made of sticks becomes deeply sinister and the fog carries high cortisol levels from tent to tent until it actually feels like the start of Zombie Apocolypse: Camping in Britain.
(The benefit of this fog is that I can’t see all those beautiful kites flying perfectly in the sky judging our pathetic parrot with their wistful tails.)
Expectation: Packing down is a seamless affair because we are camping legends. Tim and I actually have arguments about who is the most legendary camper. However:
Reality: We pack up the tent and all of our gear into the car WITH OUR CAR KEYS STILL IN THE INTERNAL POCKET OF THE TENT. Twice in a row.
Funnily enough, despite all this terrible weather and real-life rubbishness we have totally enjoyed ourselves. We are camping with good friends and that helps. (Blimey, imagine this with bad friends.) I have felt our friendship deepen over the hardship in a way soldiers in a muddy trench might. The whole campsite seems to have a World War like camaraderie. Or perhaps we’re feeling the bond natural to those moments just before a Zombie Apocolypse.
(I find myself deciding which of the other campers I’d like in my zombie fighting team. The older couple who are stealth camping in the bushes seem to have a survivalist mentality that would be handy. Perhaps other campers would choose me to be in their team because my Kermit suit means I’m probably fun and could lighten the mood in the moments of impending, gruesome zombie death.)
There is a certain stoic sense of pride in our ability to weather a rainy summer. Unlike my experience of camping in other countries no one here is taken unawares by the stormy gales. Oh no. The campsite is like the Winter catalogue of RainyWeatherOutfit.com but with more driving rain. Puffa jackets, woolly beanies, cagoules, cagoules for legs, welly boots, gaters, cagoule onesies.
We raise our eyesbrows and laugh as the thunder rumbles around us and step in to help each other’s vehicles out of the swampy fields.
And I guess that’s partly why we will be camping again next week, and at every opportunity. Because really, it wouldn’t be a proper camping holiday without the desperate misery of days of rain. I think we all love it, deep down.
In lieu of the epic strawberry-and-pimms-summer joy we hoped for the parents are able to find joy in life’s true simple pleasures:
A dry picnic table
A boiled egg that peels really easily
Narrowly missing stepping on dog poo
and without being able to wile away the hours splashing in a warm sea children discover the ability to delight in the small things:
Bouncing on the air beds until they spring a leak
Balancing biscuits on head
So, high fives to all damp campers and other holidaymakers digging deep and making the most of one of Britains most cherished traditions: Belligerently Eating Ice Cream By The Seaside In the Pouring Rain.
One day we’ll have a summer where fleecey onesies and cagoules have no place.
And we’ll discover it’s not all that.
Have you had a great or terrible family camping trip? Would love to hear your experience!