Pretending to love camping

Growing up, my favourite holidays were always the ones spent in some Spanish resort, where the food came in a plastic basket and the ice creams were rendered as frozen lemons. My parents ignored me and I had the time of my life doing colouring competitions while they got drunk on sangria and had affairs.

How times have changed. I’m not sure how it happened but in much the same way that the NCT nazis convinced me it would be better if childbirth really hurt, so their chums over at Camping HQ have tricked me and most of the other mothers I know into believing that sleeping in my clothes and doing 24-hour childcare is somehow more relaxing than getting a tan and drinking cocktails from a pineapple on a generic island somewhere in the generic sea.

Camping is basically a big, cruel joke played on women who are just looking for a bit of a break. And the worst thing is, we play along.

Last summer is a perfect example. We’d booked somewhere smug in Dorset from the Cool Camping guide where the site facilities included recycling and a compost toilet. I had wanted to try glamping but my husband – who as a Scout in the 80s once slept in his friend’s garden but has re-imagined his own childhood as akin to that of Mowgli from the Jungle Book – insists it’s not really camping if you have a proper bed. So we went the whole hog and booked an eco-friendly place where the children’s activities were listed as collecting the eggs and petting the donkey. As we approached reception in a damp sea mist, be-draggled children emerging from the woods like zombies, I had a pang of nostalgia for my sun-drenched kids’ club and the lemon ice-creams. But by then it was too late. For me the ‘holiday’ had really started days before we went away.

Because despite what they tell you in Green Parent magazine, for mothers camping isn’t actually about foraging for mushrooms and toasting fairtrade marshmallows, it’s about packing and unpacking things, sometimes for up to a week before and after your trip: plastic tubs full of healthy snacks no-one will eat; plastic tubs containing the mackerel fillets you’ve been marinading like off River Cottage but look too rancid to cook once you arrive; bags of clean clothes; bags of dirty clothes; waterproof clothes in case it rains (it will); summer clothes in case it is hot (doubtful, sorry); warm clothes for the evenings; the kids’ entire collection of pyjamas because they are guaranteed to wee in them; washing up bowls full of dirty plates; washing up bowls full of clean plates; ice boxes full of freezer blocks that don’t keep anything cold; fucking piles of fucking jute bags literally bursting at the seams with Aigle wellies and Birkenstocks and Crocs.

It’s also a chance to experience all the status anxiety of being at home but in the great outdoors. You can bring all the pukey Cath bunting and solar-powered warm-white fairy lights you like, but you’ll sure as hell come back NEEDING a bell tent and a chiminea because you will always end up camping next to someone like this:

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It is basically all the shit stuff about domestic life amplified, with added mud and sleeping bags full of wee. And don’t expect your other half to suddenly become all rugged and outdoorsy: man-cub spent the whole time napping in the tent and definitely not rubbing sticks to make fire and building bivouacs with the kids like he said he would.

At one point I sloped off to do the washing up. It was a sink with one cold tap, that you had to hold down to get anything out of, but it was just me there and I could lose myself in the peace and quiet for a while. And as I stood there in the woods in my stupid Boden ‘happy’ pull-ons, the grim truth dawned on me that the highlight of my holiday was washing up one-handed in cold water.

That’s not what I told my friends when I got back though. As far as they were concerned I really enjoyed the kids being ‘free-range’ and ‘going feral’ and it was sooo great because they didn’t look at a screen once (although secretly I made them watch Cars 2 on my laptop, with the volume down, three times).

Now when the talk turns to summer holidays and camping, I can’t help sneakily Googling ‘holidays in Spain with kids’ clubs’.

2 thoughts on “Pretending to love camping

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