My parents messaged me about their summer holiday plans last week. “Have just booked two weeks camping in Scotland, middle of July!” my mum trilled.
“Ghastly,” I responded.
I’m from solid camping stock, so it’s an utter mystery to my family why I hate sleeping under tarpaulin so much. They seem to love pitching up to bits of yellowed grass in off-season Britain and traipsing off the toilet block for a piss, wash bag in hand. My mum, in particular, speaks wistfully of evenings spent sat on a threadbare deckchair outside the tent, after cooking some tinned meal on a camping stove, with warm wine: has anybody even spoken so breathlessly of a wet week in October on the South Downs?
They smugly reel off things like “freedom”, “total switch-off from normal life” and “liberating”, but I’ve found all those things are generally possible in hotels too. Don’t even get me started on the natty camping gear.
Sorry. I’m being grumpy. I just don’t understand it.
The problem is, given the current government dithering over where international travel might be permitted this summer, a week’s camping in the UK hinterland might be the only holiday we’re allowed and can afford. Howl.
My childhood was punctuated by summer camping holidays the length and breadth of the south of France, from the Dordogne to the Basque Country and back. I have happy memories of swimming pools, jumping into empty lakes and – naturally – roaming the aisles of French hypermarkets. The bits I’d like to forget are the storms that rattled our ancient tent poles, arguing with my siblings over who got the double airbed and once, memorably, waking up floating on a few inches of water when the tent leaked. Oh, and the tortuous afternoon when we finally landed at the site of shoving poles together and stretching the canvas to the guy ropes, usually in the rain.
This is apparently all “part of the fun”, according to campers.
As a mildly precocious child, my parents insisted that my hatred of camping “was a phase” (was it heck!) and “I’d like it eventually”. The moment I was liberated from family holidays I realised that there are things called hotels, which offer things like shelter and food and a toilet usually in the same room. And fortunately for my parents, my presence never darkened one of their camping jollies again.
I’m lying, a bit. I’ve camped a handful of times as an adult: once at a friend’s wedding when I didn’t want to appear churlish by booking the B&B down the road; and once at a music festival in which I drank too much and woke up gasping for breath in what felt like a polyester prison when the sun shone on one side. If I absolutely had to, I could probably bring myself to… no, sorry, just can’t do it.
To me, part of the enjoyment of camping appears to be the sheer misery of it. It’s the knowing you’ve had to suffer a bit for your holiday to be enjoyable, which seems a stoutly British thing. Here’s the thing: I can be just as miserable in a hotel without the dinner party anecdotes about being forced to go for a midnight wee behind someone else’s tent.
So that’s how I’ll be holidaying this year. In a hotel, preferably somewhere hot like Greece. But if restrictions, well, restrict, it’ll be the English coast – with a bed, pillows, and the ability to turn up the heating if it all gets too cold.