“Am I hearing correctly?” said a text from my dad a couple of weeks ago. “YOU want a TENT?”
It was surprising, but perhaps not inevitable, that I would one day want to go camping. For all my attachment to hot running water, electrical appliances and garments made of chiffon, there is also the collected effects of a childhood spent reading books about boarding schools and pony treks to combat them. For every voice in my head reminding me how much I enjoy television and dry underwear, there’s another shrieking “Let’s play sardines in a wood then eat ginger cake under a tarpaulin in the rain – it will be RIPPING FUN.”
So when we set off for the campsite in West Hoathly (that’s somewhere near East Grinstead), I am feeling prepared. I have wellies (borrowed), a tent (borrowed) a sleeping bag (stolen) and a waterproof parka with a hood (salvaged from my brief 17-year-old period as a mod). Boyfriend has vetoed my desire to bring a pillow, and also forgotten to pack himself a towel.
“You won’t need a towel,” he says. “We’re not going to shower.”
“That’s not the point,” bleats the Hitchhiker’s Guide in my head. “I will almost certainly be glad of a towel.” In the end I roll it up in the place of my absent pillow.
Pitching a tent in the pouring rain, it turns out, is one of those activities that is equally as hilarious in memory as it is un-hilarious at the time. A bit like burning your kitchen down, or breaking a minor limb. Buoyed only by the promise of fish and chips at the end and the vague notion that rain might be an exfoliant, we battle torrential conditions to claim and furnish our corner of field.
Twenty hours later, we have sung a rousing midnight chorus of Bohemian Rhapsody, slept on a bit of lumpy ground, flicked a slug off the outside of our tent from the inside (satisfying), weed in the woods (also satisfying), played a full two innings of cricket in intermittent rain showers, argued, driven to a pub, driven back from the pub, gone on a three mile hike in the woods, got very, very lost, ended up in Ardingly, and been forced to take a taxi back to the campsite.
I am wearing damp socks, damp jeans, a damp top, with a damp jumper, and a damp coat, and a slightly damp soul. But (potentially inspired by my formative local reporter experience on this paper), my spirit is not dampened. Boyfriend has built a fire, which is obviously awakening some Early Man pride within him. I have smuggled a fire-baked potato into my sleeping bag for warmth.
Another 12 hours or so on, and we have driven through a couple of villages, then back through the same villages, then through them again, and then into something looking suspiciously like a town. Every limb aches. There is an M&S Simply Food on the horizon! Civilisation beckons.
It was, though, RIPPING FUN.