My parents made me camp a lot when I was growing up. Naturally, this has left me with a pathological loathing for it now that I’m an adult. I’m always fascinated by people who go on camping trips. I’m secretly a little tempted to inflict it on experience it with my own children. And then I read this……
“At exactly 4.36pm on Monday, my family arrived home from a long weekend camping with friends. After I told my toilet how much I had missed it, I reflected on how bizarre the camping thing is. Why do people fortunate enough to live in homes equipped with everything from basics like running water to little luxuries like chairs, choose to spend three days packing for three days in the bush? Followed by three days of washing.
In simpler times, I imagine camping had a certain charm. Mum filled a tartan metal esky with sausages and baked beans. Dad chucked a big old canvas tent and a little round barbecue into the car boot. Each kid packed a spare pair of undies and a toothbrush. Maybe. There was a pack of cards for fun and a ball of twine for fishing.
Today, there is a definite swing to a more civilized outdoor experience and I’m not sure it’s an improvement. When our family of five goes camping for three days, the 4WD is bursting. The trailer is overflowing and I am still chucking stuff in as we’re pulling out of the driveway.
The forecast says dry, but what if it rains? Kids need will two sets of clothes each day. Should we take Panadol and Nurofen? And what about wine? Seamus is cooking a lamb tagine on Saturday night. Does that mean red or white? Best take a couple of each. Games. Should we pack Scrabble? If adults are playing, kids will want to play too – take Junior Scrabble. But if they all want to play there will be a fight so grab Boggle and Hungry Hungry Hippos too.
There are 15 kids and 10 adults in our camping group. Lovely, generous people. So generous that no one packs just enough for their family. So each family brings enough marshmallows for 25 people. Even I can do the maths on that. There are also muesli bars and apples and strawberries and pancake mix to feed the entire campground population. Yet we invariably run out of tomato sauce.
Tents are no longer the canvas cubes as seen on M*A*S*H. Today, they are lightweight, multi-roomed dwellings with sunrooms and cross-ventilation. A single family tent requires acreage. One of our group is an architect – her family’s tent is no bigger than everyone else’s but better laid out with innovative storage solutions. I suspect she brings artwork.
But, despite the fabulous tents and Seamus’s lamb tagine, there are still realities about camping that never vary.
1. At least one couple will have a major bust-up over a misplaced torch.
2. Composting toilets are not odourless. And when you find yourself in a queue behind a fella with the Sunday paper folded under his arm, you’re inbig trouble.
3. All children are pyromaniacs. Most men too.
4. Children who have not wet the bed for years are very likely to wet the sleeping bag.
5. It takes three days, or the duration of your camping trip (whichever is the greater) to get a sleeping bag dry. The wee smell is there forever.
6. No one knows where the Stingose is.
7. Even if you never have sex, you will have it less while camping.
8. All children know a rude version of ‘On Top Of Spaghetti’. As long as your kid’s is not the rudest, don’t worry about it.
9. There will be bogans in the campsite next to yours. This is fact, not snobbery. Even bogans think the campers next to them are bogans.
10. At some point you will need to ask the bogans how to connect the gas bottle. So be nice.
11. No matter how many tea-towels you pack, you will not have enough.
So why do we do it?
There has to be an upside. As I finish my 6th load of washing, it’s hard to imagine, but it’s definitely there. Corny as it sounds, there are conversations that happen around a campfire that happen nowhere else. Not in the office or at tuckshop or on Twitter. They are hilarious and warm.
There is a perverse pleasure in watching kids going feral when they know parents will be too tired and frightened of tinea to bother with showers.
Group camping is a practical lesson in sharing. The kids actually see us do it. No one says ‘Hey! That’s our Vegemite!’ or ‘I had the corkscrew first!’ It’s all about taking turns and playing nicely.
Everyone keeps an eye on each other’s kids and all the kids get to know parents other than their own. Our nine year old was amazed to learn his is not the only mother uptight about playing footy around the fire. For those few days, our family became an extended one, and it was great.
So I don’t think I will list the camping gear on ebay just yet. Not now that it’s all clean, anyway. Except for one sleeping bag.
What about you? Been camping? Love it or loathe it?
And if you do go camping, or even if you don’t you should buy a copy of Kate Hunter’s a young adult fiction book called Mosquito Advertising for your children from about the age of 10. It’s awesome sauce.