Often, when looking back on a disaster, one can pinpoint the exact moment that a path is taken that hurtles you towards hell. On this particular time it was the phrase, “If we can’t go abroad, why don’t we just take the kids camping?”
The New Forest, for those of you who’ve not been, is a cross between an abandoned golf course and a petting zoo. Wild ponies are strewn over the roads while tourists take photos of themselves stuck in the ensuing traffic; donkeys gnaw ominously at fence posts. When we arrived at the campsite all the types of modern campers were there. There were several families with tents the size and shape of upturned skateparks, with huge circus-like gazebos to match; the success of their trip seemed to depend on occupying as much grass as humanly possible.
There were the bell tent crew, dozy, posh and attention craving who imagined they were glamping and were always conspicuously necking prosecco. Then there was the classic VW campers, permanently optimistic that their vans (all of whom had names) might, just might, make it out of the campsite. A rarer subset of this group was four teenagers who were all sleeping in an old Mercedes estate. They didn’t seem to own a shirt between them, drank only cider and were missing teeth. Further up the campsite were the ice-white, forecourt-clean motorhomes. We never saw anyone coming or going from the motorhomes, just the occasional twitch of a curtain to throw a jealous glance at the other motorhomes.
Once we’d set up our camp we fell firmly outside all of these groups. We were in an old and very muddy Mitsubishi Delica 4×4 with a rat-chewed tent on the roof rack and several tarpaulins used as wind breaks held up by bungee cords and cable-ties. On stepping back to admire our work we looked like somewhere you’d go to buy a false passport in a refugee camp. Clouds of smoke from freshly cut green logs, recently purchased from the campsite owner, billowed around everything, giving it that smudgy, war film look.
Alan, the campsite owner was utterly charming. He had that wonderful local accent which involves muttering under his breath just after saying anything to us and although the prices in his shop were imaginatively set, we concluded that it was due to the extra cost of getting it all delivered by Ocado every morning. My wife discovered that Alan had some sort of Royal appointment as his girlfriend had let slip he’d been at her majesty’s pleasure for the last six years. Their charming dog, Fury, was kept very busy keeping all the wild horses, donkeys and late evening arrivals from straying into the campsite.
On our first (and, because of a change in circumstances, our only) night, probably due to excitement, my wife and I got two hours sleep, which was odd because we were being constantly soothed by a lullaby of car alarms, braying donkeys and screams. The screaming, the type normally reserved only for when one is on fire, came from a young girl, who, if I could hear her parents correctly had been christened “Princess”, discovered a slug “like, literally the size of my finger.”
Our lack of sleep was exasperated by the van having 3 inch lifts so that any wind or movement from the children below us caused the roof tent to roll around like flotsam and the “memory foam” mattress suffering severe bouts of amnesia.
Once home it dawned on me that camping is an endeavour with one sole purpose. No matter how fed up you were of being stuck in your house or flat, it will, after camping, fill you with utter joy and delight on your return.