As a child, I have fond memories of family holidays, camping in some great spots around early 80s Europe and playing around the site all day with kids who all spoke jibberish to my little English ears. I was very lucky, and at the time I probably didn’t appreciate it enough.
So now, compounded by the effects of COVID, I find myself camping again at 50, but in the UK and towing along two teenage daughters.
Let’s get something straight first of all; I don’t particularly like holidaying around Brits anywhere in the world, let alone the UK; it’s painful. I get on with most individuals a lot of the time when it’s one-on-one, but things change when it’s people – as in a bloody lot of them, herding to the beach or pool each day, or traipsing around an attraction.
In my life, and especially on holiday, I can’t ever remember ever wearing a tee-shirt saying, “Please talk to me. I want to make friends and tell you (a) where I am from and (b) what I do for a living” but that doesn’t stop some people. It always seems to be Cockneys or Northerners as well; go figure.
Then there is the Great British holiday. Firstly, the weather is British, i.e. not very good. There’s also a high percentage of single-lane country roads on the edges of our fair isle, usually on the way to many seaside destinations. You know, those lanes with passing places that many town-folk (usually in a car far too big for their driving capabilities) don’t seem to be able to comprehend. If I wanted a holiday like that, I’d just sit in my car on the driveway in front of my house with the engine running, heating ramped up listening to Ken Bruce on Radio Two, shouting “Can’t you see we need to let him pass so we can get past the other way you silly fuckwit!” at the top of my voice.
For many years, I kept hearing how great places like Devon and Cornwall are; about towns like Bude, Paignton, Dawlish and Woolacombe. They all sound lovely on paper and made me want to visit them. So I did. It turns out they’re not lovely at all.
Anyway, back to Covid restrictions, the great British getaway and Camping 2021. I’m in charge of the trip now, not my mum and dad, which is just as well as my mum is now a 76-year old who goes out of her way to look for the bad in people, and my dad’s been dead since 1989.
I’d purposely chosen a small site in Croyde, Devon, to avoid the large multiple-family groups where the parents get trashed on white wine and strong lager while their kids run around annoying everyone. I’d bought all my camping gear over the past two years for the price of a new car, and here we are, setting up camp successfully. My two kids offer to help half-heartedly, already resenting being on this ‘holiday’, but I soldier on and nothing has fallen down. Time to sit down on my new camping chair and enjoy a beer to celebrate the fact that I am now officially as good, if not better, at camping than Bear Grylls.
Then a family arrives next to me, in a big BMW X5, which I am sure would have been blocking half the lanes in North Devon during their journey. They certainly blocked the track to the row of tents we were in as Steve parked up at an angle.
Now, I thought I was the Mayor of “All The Gear And No Idea”, but Steve (his personalised number plate gave it away, along with his wife using it in every sentence); Steve was the Master, ruler of the galaxy. He was the King Gary of the campsite.
Steve, where are the airbeds? Steve, what time does the village shop close? Steve, did you pack the girdle-birldes and the jickory flummocks?
It’s no wonder Steve went on to spend much of the time with his head in a newspaper.
Being the outgoing person I am, I quickly found a book to be glued to so I could avoid all eye contact, wondering about the share price of Go Outdoors as he unpacked and clumsily set up over the next 2-3 hours.
After a walk to the beach, we came back to find a couple of mums had set up opposite, already on the Gin to calm their nerves as their young boys ran round and round in circles. I can only assume the kids were drinking Coke with a side order of sugar, with the energy they had. Having sullen teenagers who barely speak to you suddenly felt not-so soul-destroying.
The next morning, these lovely women didn’t seem to understand that 6.30 for most people is relatively early to be up having a loud conversation while your kids play in the car, beeping the horn. I was left balancing on my airbed trying to cling to some sort of sleep, suddenly hating all children in the entire world.
So what did I learn? Well, I’m glad I packed earplugs for starters. I also learned that I really liked camping, despite not getting the chance to play with any young french boys like the good old 80s (just as well). My kids, they didn’t enjoy it – not enough wi-fi power or entertainment. They preferred to do what they do at home, sit in their rooms on their phones. The good news is, it’s much harder to make a dramatic exit zipping up the door of an inner tent than slamming a bedroom door.
I’d go again on my own; walking, cycling, pretending I look cool bodyboarding when in fact I look like the overweight 50-year-old I am with as much grace as a two-legged elephant (front-right and back-left if you can picture that).
Camping is nice and relaxing when you have your little domain set up, and I probably spent more time than was natural just staring at the hill in the distance and doing nothing else. Sitting down in the fading light each night, reading a book and slowly getting drunk, yep, what more do you need?
What I’d really like, is the first lockdown again so I can go camping then. All the northerners and cockneys would be stuck at home, while I enjoyed the empty country lanes and the solitude that would come with a Steve-less campsite.