Now, it’s been a long held tradition on these golden shores to build your dwellings from durable substances such as brick, concrete, and castle-shaped inflatable PVC (but the less said about that one the better). So it’s a curious thing that for several generations now the English have willingly opted to spend their precious holiday breaks crammed into canvas temporary accommodation with no electricity, plumbing, or heating.
“Is this some kind of gameshow?” you may ask in all seriousness. “What prize do they win for surviving such discomfort?” could be a sensible follow-up enquiry, but to your astonishment you would find the answer “No, it’s fun” as bewildering as the concept itself.
Whereas in some parts of the world the idea of being outside, communing with nature, and getting back to basics would seem a respite from the relentless drudgery of city life, the problem with Britain is that it is a green and pleasant land. Why is this a problem? Well, think about it….green…go on, it’ll come…green….that’s right, when you want plants to remain green in your home the most important thing is to water them regularly….ahhhhh, there it is.
Far from being the sun drenched kingdom of paradise that the tourist board would have you believe, in actual fact it’s been known to rain a bit over here. Then a bit more….then quite a bit more. In fact if we were to redesign the national flag to something more representative of this great nation, using the kind of imagery of, say, Canada where a Maple Leaf proudly announces the natural beauty and richness of the country, then I think it would probably end up with a grey background against which would be placed a large umbrella. ‘Come to Britain!’ we’d proudly proclaim, ‘where there are pretty much no dangerous animals and you have very little chance of getting sunburnt!’ – how would you resist such entreatment?
So why would we subject ourself to a thing inexplicable as camping? Well, one answer is that it’s cheap. Here I think is the first modern fallacy that camping uses to capture you in it’s canvas clutches. You see it is in principle a cheap holiday. There’s an initial investment of a tent (which can actually be quite a substantial investment), then the hire of the place to put it, and after that surely the rest is stuff you already own? The kids run free in the fields while you try your best to read that 600 page blockbuster you’ve never found time for at home. But no…. You see camping has a darker side. The gadgets. A tent is just the beginning, then you need a cooking device of some kind, then maybe some plastic plates, a torch, how about some foldable chairs? Before you know it you’re waist high in a collection of devices that bend, expand, constrict, and have a multitude of pockets. It’s like the Spanish Inquisition merged with Habitat.
Once you manage to stuff these symbols of empire into the creaking car, leaving the children feeling like they’ve been bricked up in the walls of Bedlam, you can begin the long drive down roadwork lined motorways in search of the nirvana that awaits. Arriving at the site you’d be forgiven for thinking a natural disaster had occurred in the area and all these poor people have been ousted from their homes only to end up in this destitute refugee camp. You unpack the kids, spend an hour trying desperately not to rip your house as you assemble it, enter your new residence, put the kettle on, sit back in uncomfortable chairs and watch as the heavens open.
Now I enjoy damp clothes and the feeling of never being quite clean as much as the next person, but camping is, as far as I can make out, something of a Zen pastime. You see if you can put a smile on your face, recognise the irony of the ridiculous nature of the pursuit, revel in having to walk 1km to go to the toilet, then suddenly the weirdest transformation takes place – you actually begin to enjoy it. So it takes ten minutes to make a cup of tea? What’s the hurry? You’ve developed callouses from the continual zipping and unzipping of the multiple doorways? It’s proof you’re doing something new. You can’t sleep at night because the heavy rain pounding on the tent sounds like a production of Stomp? Hey, at least the delirium it induces will help you get through the day.
People say that Britain has lost the Dunkirk spirit, but I say neigh. It’s simply moved from the sea to the fields and with it the knowledge that some corner of them will remain forever England.