So the title kind of gives it away: in my view, camping is a lot like Marmite and you either love it or you hate it.
I love it.
I love mooching around the campsite drinking gallons of tea and reading in my camp chair; I love huddling in the dry safety of my tent listening to the rain thunder on the roof; I love waking up in the morning feeling closer to nature. I am a happy camper.
…always, there is a but!
With Marmite, even those who love it (and I do) sometimes find it catches them off-guard. Spread a little too thickly on toast that is insufficiently buttery and Marmite suddenly doesn’t seem quite so deliciously tasty.
To extend the analogy to camping, even those who love it can be caught off-guard when bad weather, faulty equipment and human error conspire to tip the delicate balance from peaceful contentment to abject despair.
And that, I think, sets the scene for my most recent camping adventure. The plan: a lazy weekend in the sunshine by the sea with my girls and some friends (minus husband who had to work). Sounds good, right? (Assuming you are a Marmite-lover that is!) And it was lovely, aside from a few minor hiccups that tipped that balance slightly the wrong way on occasion.
Hiccup number one came about an hour after I arrived at the site. As mentioned, I had left Mike behind on this trip (He has a normal job and had to go to work. I am a teacher and didn’t.) and, much as it galls me to admit it, that was the cause of my first incident.
Now I (as I announce not infrequently to friends, acquaintances and anyone else who might listen) am a Duke of Edinburgh Award leader and am well acquainted with tent construction, but on family holidays I am generally busy with the kids (read – lazy and eager to avoid extra work) and tend to leave Mike to take the lead on putting up our giant 6 man, 3 room tent, assisting only when necessary.
So take Mike out of the equation and replace him with me; add a couple of willing, but essentially inexperienced, assistants and I guess it is no surprise that disaster ensued!
Modern tents have bendy poles, right? Well maybe not so much. The painful crack of the first pole to bow out seemed to put paid to that idea and was closely followed by a panicked trip to the local hardware store to spend £8 (!) on a roll of gaffa tape to fix it. Back at the tent and a clever splint with a tent peg seemed to do the job and I smugly concluded that I may be able to manage this tent construction lark after all….
…until the second pole broke and my smug self-satisfaction evaporated in a rip of tent material. This time there was no easy fix (creating a reliable peg splint is a challenge too far when you decide you are now past caring and have no desire to completely dismantle the tent and start again), but we managed to cobble together a make-shift solution involving a clumsy sharp right-angle at the top of the tent resembling a painful broken bone poking awkwardly through its skin. If you discount the now unusable second bedroom, it was a perfectly acceptable quick fix and the girls and I finally had a home for the night.
So we were back on track – lazy mornings; sunshine; fabulous company; idyllic trips to the beach: who said camping wasn’t the most fun you could have in a field?
And then on the evening of day 2 the rains came….
…to be precise, the rains came as I was showering the girls after an afternoon in the sea and we emerged blinking and wet-haired into the downpour before rushing to fumble our way into the tent under a blanket of driving rain rendering the shower completely unnecessary.
Once inside the tent, we surveyed our little home from home and realised a number of things: we had a notable lack of lighting (the sole light-source being my old head torch with a decidedly fading battery); Ana’s airbed was completely deflated and of no discernible use as a means of improving overnight comfort; and our tendency to use our tent as a dumping ground meant we now had to sit, sheltering from the rain, amidst piles of wet towels, dirty clothes, discarded loom bands and a light covering of sand.
The girls proceeded to make loom bands in surprisingly companionable peace, whilst I set to work on trying to find the puncture in Ana’s bed (given that I could now fix it with the gaffa tape I had already acquired at great expense to fix the tent – every cloud and all that…). However, being ‘close to nature’ has its disadvantages and the magnified sound of the rain pounding on the roof of the tent soon forced me to abandon my attempts to listen for the escaping air. So no bed for Ana.
Instead I decided to read, but the fading torchlight and the storm-induced premature darkness made this challenging so we popped next door to be entertained. On return to our tent, we found we had to wade through a pond in our porch created by the rain leaking in from all sides (yet more evidence of my poor tent construction!). In an attempt to make it possible to leave and re-enter the tent without being up to our knees in water, I set about bailing out the porch with the nearest available implement: a beach spade. No, you’re right. It wasn’t the perfect solution and the pond-wading continued until morning.
Eventually, the day’s adventures caught up with the girls and they needed sleep, presenting us with a dilemma about who would sleep where. We had one functioning airbed; one thin sleeping mat; two small children and a mother who dislikes the prospect of sleeping on the bare earth with only a groundsheet beneath me. If you have read my previous posts, it will come as no surprise to you that I was unwilling to give up my sleeping mat for the good of my children (this is really because I am selfish and put my own needs before those of my off-spring, but if you want me to pretend that isn’t true, then I will justify it by saying that a sleep-deprived mother is no good to anyone and this decision was actually in their best interest).
So there were no choices: the girls were going to have to top and tail on a single airbed.
This did not go down well with all parties.
Ana – currently bed-less – realised it was the best offer she was going to get, so willingly acquiesced, but Faith – she of the fully-functioning bed – was not so keen. I may have mentioned before that she is not a keen sharer and the path towards sleep was consequently a rocky one, with much screeching that Ana was taking her space, followed by a brief stint sitting in her sleeping bag in the middle of the tent insisting that she would never return to the shared bed again.
Now, for once, I was unconcerned about the yells of my children disturbing the peace of others. The howling winds and driving rain left me sure in the knowledge that no-one could hear them. But surprisingly it also left me feeling more than a little isolated and prompted me to re-assess my position on the joys of camping in light of my current situation:
9.30pm on a Friday night and I was sheltering in a broken tent, with the ever-present possibility of a significant roof-leak; my children were arguing; my torch didn’t work; my exit from the tent was barred by an ever-growing pool of rainwater. The balance appeared to be tipping ever-further towards abject despair and away from peaceful contentment….
…but later, as I lay listening to the rain on the roof and the gentle snores of my children, it occurred to me that one of the joys of camping is that even when it seems a little hard to take, it always feels like it is probably doing you good….
…so it really IS a lot like Marmite then!