A nostalgic look at childhood camping

Camping has always and will always be my fuck you to the business ran shit storm that is the world. Universities have become just another cash cow for Deans, and people are talking about running the NHS like a business. You can’t run a national healthcare system like a business- it ISN’T a business. In moments of rage induced clarity I can’t help but wonder what it would be like if we all just picked up a tent and went. All of us, camping together as a strike on the ‘world ran as a business’. We could all gather on fold out chairs with little plastic mugs, drinking instant hot chocolate in a really disorganized manner. Ah, the dream. 

Why is camping so utterly great? It’s as far from corporate lifestyle as you can get. There still remains little pockets of English countryside which invite you to gather together to roast politicians alongside your corn on the cob.

I grew up on campsites. Every year my mum took us camping to the same few campsites in Wales. A lot of my childhood memories have been formed on lush green fields dripping with morning dew and urine from campers who didn’t fancy a 2am trek to the loo.

A list of the best to follow.. please note they are just called “Campsite #..” because growing up that’s what they were. I didn’t know the names of cities that they were in, just that they were fields we set our tents up in.

Campsite #1

The first campsite we frequented sat right next to a huge, dense evergreen forest. The campsite was only small, and like most of them, backed onto a farmer’s house. Me, my twin and older brother took to this forest with an adventurers relish. We nipped through the barbed wire (back when you’re young enough to get away with shit like that) and trekked over cackling twigs and rough, fallen bark. We looked for dark spaces to hide in and jump out at each other from, but then we reached the middle of the forest

In the middle we found a passage had been cleared: a huge, man made circle. In the middle there was a giant pile of animal bones. Cow bones, OX bones, definitely sheep bones. We had stumbled across a secret cult that burnt dead carcasses. White brittle pieces of bone tickled our feet. (This is how I remember it). I escaped with barely my life. We ran back the way we’d come, not caring that the branches were hitting our faces with a force unparalleled.

When we reached the dirt road we were changed. With twig shaped scars on our faces, we were each Rambo in our minds. We concocted theories about the cult which we meant to spend the rest of the trip unravelling. We would literally solve real life fiction. The next day we took our spades down to the nearby beach for some good, safe, fun instead. 

Campsite #3

The social life at a campsite was richer than the most illustrious instagram account. We upgraded our annual visit to a campsite in Anglesey that was teeming with kids our age. (Mum took us there after we were charged at by a ram at the smaller one.) That’s when someone first told me I looked like Selena Gomez- yes please, thank you. I actually had that running for a few years and then it stopped, I don’t know what happened. At this camp we would form a little crew and play football together. I once spent a whole afternoon doing cartwheels with a girl who’s younger brother refused to put clothes on. The girl and I sat cross legged throughout a whole afternoon, explaining the ins and outs of our religions to each other and discussing our respective gods. I think our Jewish and Christian parents were having palpitations as we single handedly saved our generation. 

I caught butterflies in our lanterns and kept them as pets- this was before I realised that loving animals meant respecting them, not entrapping them for personal use. They all died and left that dusty trail of butterfly must behind. If I didn’t cry then, I’m crying for them now. My mum probably laughed at me when I told her I wanted to be a vet, waving those sticks of death. 

I followed toads back from the bathroom at 10pm and found it hilarious when we found them in someone’s trainer the next day. I used to shine my torch like a walking lighthouse for them, so they could see where they were going. I couldn’t stand the thought of them being crushed by a clumpy wellington. I was an RSPCA inspector aged 7 and no one knew. That’s the sort of purpose you can secretly laud over your parents when you got in trouble. 

We heard a rustling one night in the tent and my mum crept out ready to shoo a feral fox. It was our uncle sneaking a kit kat from the tin foil freezer bag. 

Campsite #4

I fancied my first ever farmer called Steven at a campsite. He was 12. I was 10.  He had a quad bike and a huge Kinex. My brother got to play with it, and I tried to be the cool younger sister who didn’t give a fuck, “happily”  standing in the corner and watching. I was really counting my inward tears. 

Campsite #5 (that was number 1 chronologically speaking)

I also remember wetting the sleeping bag at 6 and feeling so embarrassed that I emptied all my clothes into the middle of the tent and tried to curl up under them so as not to wake my mum. It was freezing. My mother woke up grumbling but her heart broke as she told me off for trying to sleep in minus temperatures under a pile of M & S knickers . I can’t remember how we sorted out my sleeping arrangements but I know I wet the bed every other night without fail.

Campsite #6

I remember sitting at the table that was raised up behind the toilets so you could see the site,at 14. My brother sneaked us Jack Daniels and we had a shot each, feeling like underground gamblers who perhaps had a panache for outdoor and vegetation settings for games. We giggled, spoke about important stuff all night and shivered; all whilst marveling at the changing colours of the sky. Dark blue to navy to pitch black to dotted with iridescent stars. 

Later that night I went to the toilet and the sky was fuschia, yellow and a burning red. I ran back to the tent to grab my sleeping bag and shuffled back to the table. I really felt like I was experiencing something magical and profound. It is the feeling you get when you experience something incredibly private but huge. For me it had been sitting at a table by a toilet, spying on the sky as it changed itself. 

And so..?

Camping creates itself in cold days and a few hot ones. You can spend a day carefully paddling a stream and then trip over a guy lines in the evening several times. Camp nights are the distant noise of campfire songs, and the strumming of your own guitar to which someone from another pitch will (maybe annoyingly) join in with. Little patches of bonfire light up a field’s corners so that you can warm your hands by the darkness. 

If you went every year like my family you’ll know you develop traditions; who does what (my sister was fucking great at putting up tents – I just stirred the pot (thanks Mum) and brought back “injured” animals who just wanted to go back to the spot I’d dragged them from, screaming, “I’m going to be a vet.”) 

Even though you’re twelve and cold beyond belief, you know if you unzip the tent door, the world would be waiting. Anything is possible when the stars are literally metres away, seemingly metres above you.

My message to you

Buy a tent. Take anyone and go anywhere remote. Or not remote, as long as you’re making the camp yourself. Rely on yourselves instead of the TV and take refuge in the fact you can survive if they decide to privatise everything but roadkil:  Making a fire’s a piece of piss. 

Published by toobusytowrite

My page is called “too busy to write” because we all think we are. Where you’ve been and who you’ve met may be nothing but something to fall asleep on now, but in 40 odd years they will be the stuff you try and remember.

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