real life

'Camping? You mean, staying in a less-than-4-star hotel?'

‘Maybe we just find a hotel.’

by MARY ANN

Let it be known I have no issue with camping holidays – my job has certainly exposed me to some wonderful spots – it’s usually others, however, who go. Good for them I say. It’s just never been on my must-do list. Nature? Great, but no need to sleep with it. Camping? A 3.5 star hotel is camping to me.

So imagine my surprise when the bloke comes home and announces, “we’re going to have a true blue Australian holiday!” What the hell does that mean, I ask?  “We’re going camping darl, it’ll be great for the kids.” Well it had better be bloody good for someone.

“We haven’t got a tent,” I start to protest. “Don’t you worry about that, I’ll sort that out!” he says. 4 hours later he returns with no ordinary tent – but the Taj Bloody Mahal in the form of  a 4 bedroom portable house with sunroom. “How long is this going to take to set up?” I ask. “About half a day and I’ll need to weather it too,” he says.

Weather it? Where? It’s bigger than our backyard! A phone call later, mum’s got a tent at her place for 5 days.  “Where is it going to fit?” I ask. “We’re getting roof racks darl.” Of course we are. The costs involved in buying a tent and all the accessories that go with it including site fees (“We have to pay for this?” I ask. “They should be paying us!”)  is up there in the thousands. “It’s an investment,” he says.

Pina colada anyone?

I found myself thinking: I could be in Mauritius for almost the same price sipping a pina colada by a resort pool.

I figure there’s no getting out of this. I tell friends of our plans – they mock me  – “you’ll be lucky to survive the night!” they say, before hitting me with stories of possums and toilets requiring thongs. The common denominator however was an interesting one. I was bemused that so many associate camping with alcohol. And copious amounts apparently. “Why do I need that?” I ask. More laughter.

So I pack my Longchamp bag, Dinosaur Designs necklaces to wear with strapless tops, my GHD for the perfect ponytail, a Tiffany & Co cuff, Prada perfume, my Tom Ford’s.  I pack the colour co-ordinated crockery. I even iron the bloke’s Ralph Lauren shorts to have him swiftly swap them for a pair of Canterbury’s.

It’s not that I’m a glamour puss. It’s not. But somehow the idea of leaving my home and life’s conveniences puts me in a spin. Where does one wash? Does one lock a tent? What we will do up there? What will the kids do without their Wii or their DS? Will I have power, I still have to work. Don’t tell me – shock horror – we might have to talk to each other?

So we hit the road with the load to the cries of ‘are we there yet’ enough to drive a sane person otherwise. Driving the freeway at the whopping speed of 80kms, the load is checked 10 times. We arrive at the holiday park with all the amenities. The bloke had done well. I eye off the toilet blocks – clean. Phew. The close proximity of the tents, however, somewhat alarming for a non-camper.

I could have been in Mauritius.

Mauritius. Where I did not go…

Hours later the Taj Mahal is right to go. The bloke is as proud as punch when our new neighbours declare our tent the pick of the bunch.  I’m under no illusions, I know very well this isn’t ‘real’ Bear Grylls camping – but I consider it relative.

ADVERTISEMENT

The first night was spent watching people patting possums, listening to the 10,000 birds screech through the night and watching the tent groove to the wind.  Tuning in to the noise of someone’s tv they’ve stupidly packed . The kids woke at 5am and seemed to harbour immeasurable energy for  activities.

There were still meals to prepare and washing to do, this ain’t no holiday I thought. You hear the neighbours discussing what they’re having for dinner and you time your showers around quiet lulls.

I could have been in Mauritius.

“Relax!” the bloke says. Just relax. Relax? As a busy working mum I don’t often ‘relax’ and someone telling me to relax often has the opposite effect.  I can’t help but notice however, even he has turned off his phone and is the happiest I’ve seen him in ages. He’s even taken to fishing. Despite the fact we don’t fish.

“It’s an investment,” he says.  We spend hours trying to catch something, clearly patience is a virtue I don’t possess. Seaweed is a specialty somewhere in the world right?

I could have been in Mauritius.

But then a remarkable thing happened. Whether it was the walks along the beach collecting seashells with my monsters, the amazing sunsets, quality face time with my bloke, the camaraderie amongst ‘happy campers’ I began to enjoy myself and dare I say it – relax. Even though I spent time on my laptop working, I began to unwind.

It was the fact there was no pressure. Nowhere to go, nowhere to be, except in the moment. I lived. I loved. I realised it didn’t matter if the kids didn’t have their baths on time, it didn’t matter if my sundress wasn’t ironed, what mattered was the simple joy of being together on holiday where we made our own fun. No resort could have given me this.

The latest accessory I’m sporting?

I began to draw comfort from hearing the flip flopping of passers-by wearing thongs on gravel, the distinct aroma of bacon cooking in the mornings and the gentle respect for others in a public space.  Our neighbours helped us co-parent, their kids spending as much time in our tent as their own. ‘Choppy’ from across the road (yes he resembles the Reed fellow) bellowed hellos each morning and happily dished out fishing and camping tips.

Other neighbours let me hold their baby. I adored the breeze through the tent windows and the chance to snooze in the sun. I relished finding out that my 7 year old’s favourite colour had changed without me knowing. Life gets so busy, has us working so hard to cram it all in – and while I hate clichés, “taking the time to smell the roses” has never been truer.

You know what else? The kids didn’t ask for the wretched Wii once, my sans makeup week didn’t phase me at all, my Dinosaur necklaces didn’t get a show, my GHD was completely unnecessary.

The latest accessory I’m sporting?  Tan marks on my feet from wearing my thongs for a week.

Mary Ann is a news journalist, is producer on Channel 9’s ‘Getaway’ and can also be heard on regional radio. She has a couple of monsters, thrives on the juggle and can be followed on Twitter here.

Are you and your family campers? Or can you not think of anything worse?