Camping is supposed to be about getting away from it all. The problem is knowing which bits you need to get away from, and which bits you need to take with you to stay alive.
In my minds eye it was a pastoral triumph. Who needs electricity in the glorious sunshine and splendour of the unspoilt outdoors? Just stuff a few things in the car and hit the road. Cast off the things you own, before they own you, right?
Fast forward to the horror of a 5am toddler tantrum and being 6 hours away from any chance of a cup of coffee. Heads rolled, I can tell you. Actually eyes rolled and some tuts were heard as my language darkened and my own behaviour began to rival that of the toddler. I wondered how long it would be before I was eating instant coffee granules straight from the jar.
Pretty soon I began to cast an envious eye over the camps of those I had hastily labelled as freaks and nerds when we first arrived. ‘They’ve got a satellite dish!’, ‘what are they planning to cook on a BBQ that big?’,and ‘that’s not a tent that’s a Serious Incident Exclusion Zone’ – all words that I would have gladly eaten – if I had something to fucking cook them on.
The item most noticeable by it’s absence though was the Naughty Step. Yes, the Naughty Step is ultra-portable, being a concept rather than a thing, but there are places that it can’t go. At home the power of the Naughty Step is awesome. Whenever it’s authority is questioned, you can dig in and ride it out, safe in the knowledge that, as much as you’d like one, you’re not constrained by having to have a nap every 5 hours.
Even in a crowded shopping centre, there is already no shortage of kids crying and the general background hubbub of shoppers shuffling in and out of stores and restaurants, and trashy club music being pumped out of clothes shops, means you don’t have to worry too much about about an extra tantrum in the maelstrom.
But in the pure stillness of a touring park campsite, the Naughty Step is suddenly drained of its power. The child knows this already – you can’t help revealing it in your voice. You find yourself breaking all the protocols and procedures – issuing countless offers of compromise instead of the single firm warning that carries so much authority elsewhere, doing anything to avoid the possible ordeal of having to re-enforce the whole process. Eventually it’s too late, something has to be done, and the Naughty Step that you’ve set about undermining for the last half hour is suddenly all that’s left. You curse yourself for not just having bloody done it in the first place. Now you know you’re in for at least an hour of pure toddler vexation and outrage, a battle of wills that is normally best carried out within four walls. The banshee screams of your precious offspring are carrying for miles. Wind breakers are being peered over, caravan curtains twitched and sunglasses raised, as your personal little hell gradually but surely becomes the centre of the universe. Where the hell do you go? Back in the tent? Behind the tent? Next to that tree over there? All of a sudden it feels as though everyone on site has X-ray specs, and can see you no matter where you go.
Of course 1 minute of quiet success was eventually achieved and the horror didn’t last forever, but it did involve the pushchair, a long walk, ignoring some signs about blah-blah-bulls-blah-blah-etc, telling a cow to fuck off, and a strong drink afterwards.
I have since learned that the car is a lot more sound proof than I had realised.
There we’re bits I enjoyed of course. Sitting around chatting, looking at the stars, reading a book for a little while – all of which took place while the kids were asleep and I could have done at home anyway.
Maybe camping just isn’t for me eh?