There are many things that have changed about our lives since our delightful rugrats made their arrival.
Ironically though, for us, holidays aren’t really one of them. Yes there are fewer lie-ins, and the hunt for a pub that caters for 3 fussy eaters instead of just 1 takes a little longer, but essentially we’ve just bolted our kids onto our annual West Country pilgrimages down the A303.
For us, there is nothing better than a country cottage, with an Aga (actually no – Agas are a fucking nightmare to cook on) and a log burner, preferably next door to a pub called ‘The Blacksmith’s Arms’ or the ‘Duke of Cornwall’.
Small Wildlife Park nearby that pretends it’s a Zoo? Tick.
One roomed “museum” with a fake suit of armour on a wall and a gift shop with over 50 different types of stationery items emblazoned with their logo? Tick.
Field with a few sheep, a llama, a wallaby (or is it a small kangaroo?) and a large barn with a “death slide” in it and no health and safety guidelines, calling itself a “theme park”? Tick.
We’re all fucking over it.
We did ALL of those things on holiday before we procreated. Having kids just means we can justify doing it (and we don’t get as many odd looks…)
The one exception to this no-change-to-our-holidays-just-because-we-have-kids rule is camping.
In our own childhoods we camped to varying degrees – Paul approximately a million times with cubs, scouts and ventures; and me on a handful of occasions once I had turned 16. NEVER with our parents.
By the time we were old enough to choose our holiday destination, he’d had his fill of the great outdoors and I wasn’t overly enamoured with it, so once we were living in our own house and sleeping in our own comfy bed, we didn’t really ever see the need.
After all, teenage camping is basically all about having sex and drinking where your parents can’t see you – not so appealing in a leaky tent in a rainstorm when you could have been doing that at home, with a takeaway, under your own 13.5 tog duvet.
Basically, you wouldn’t have caught us dead on a campsite post 1999.
It has a funny effect on you – having kids. Never did I think that I would be happy to be in a field, holding on for grim death to a massive flapping bit of fabric, being whipped in the face with guy ropes, whilst we desperately battled to get tent pegs into ground that was harder than Vinny Jones.
Why so happy? Well, for one…it wasn’t raining! But mostly because of the couple of strange little people who hadn’t stopped running, laughing, falling over and generally having a bloody amazing time since we got there. Our kids.
Now, I’m not saying that they’re completely miserable when we’re NOT camping, but the change in them was instant and incredible.
They were 2 and 5 on our first camping trip, but 6 years on, the same change comes over them every time we arrive in a mole-hilled, poo splattered campsite. It’s tribal, instinctive freedom. Maybe it’s because we’re different too.
At home, we’d never let them out of our sight, and yet here, we positively encourage it. There are still rules though. Many, many rules.
- Stay together – like a mini tribe or hunting party
- Don’t leave each other alone
- Did we mention the staying with your brother bit?
- Also: STAY TOGETHER!
Nevertheless, they have oodles more freedom than they would at home and they bloody love it. So, by the way, do we.
Once the initial “erection” has been achieved, usually with at least 2 threats of divorce and several hundred disagreements about where the fire should be located, everyone’s shoulders start to visually drop.
The constant swiping of phone screens to make a few work calls or check emails and social media, slowly but surely decreases down to the taking of an occasional picture of the amazing job we did on the kitchenette area this year, or the swish new camping chair that someone picked up for a song on eBay.
Drinking alcohol becomes a ‘whenever you feel like it’ kind of a pastime, governed only by your mood and the availability of booze, rather than pesky pub opening times or socially acceptable “yardarm” references. It’s like the airport basically – anything goes.
However, I’ve never seen anyone obnoxiously drunk on our camping trips. There’s no meat wagon cruising past, rounding up lairy parents when they’ve started a fight by the shower block. There’s more like a constant, pleasant buzz of tipsiness, rounding off the previously sharp edges of your life.
All anyone needs to achieve in this field is basic; shelter, warmth, food and fun.
There are no tellies, very limited (or in our case, no, games consoles) and even if there were, they would be out of battery charge within a few hours, so everyone is forced to find something else to do.
Roasting marshmallows is an obvious camping must-do, but we manage to make it into an all day activity. The kids and a few key “grown-ups” i.e. people old enough to drive, (everybody mentally regresses on camping trips and the line between child and adult blurs considerably) head off to the woodpile, armed with axes and saws and maybe a bandana or 2 for effect.
They return, sometimes more than an hour later, dragging half a tree behind them. For anyone who has seen the recent incarnation of The Jungle Book, it’s like the elephants have arrived to shape the landscape of our campsite, so deep are the furrows from the heavy boughs!
They then spend another joyful hour or two, chopping, sawing, stripping off leaves and needles until we have enough wood to stoke the fires of several royal palaces for a week. It is all burnt by the second night in a series of campfires that can be seen from space.
Our favourite site allows fires freely, and whilst you can purchase neatly netted bags of pre chopped logs for a small fee, we always avail ourselves of the free woodpile and child labour, because, you know, what else have we got to do?
Laundry? Paint the spare room? Pay the council tax? Nope.
All we need to do is get a fire going for warmth and food, or as we refer to it – CAMPING CRAP.
At no other time would we consider 3+ hours of manual labour, involving at least 5 people to be a worthwhile endeavour, when the end result is to slightly melt or (more likely) burn a few marshmallows. And yet, the kids (read everyone here) absolutely love it.
When asked what their favourite holiday is, they always and without hesitation say it is our annual family and friends camping trip to Weymouth.
And we (mostly) agree.
For me though (and here is where our priorities differ and the line between adult and child becomes somewhat sharper again), the best thing about camping is, without doubt, the cost – or lack thereof.
We spend £80ish for 3 nights and 4 days of summer holiday accommodation (admittedly brought and put up by us, but still…)
A flat by the sea in the same season, with similarly sized rooms or even a static caravan on a popular holiday park costs a minimum of £1000 a week or £400ish equivalent for the 3 nights that we spend away.
Don’t get me wrong – we will stay in a lovely cottage – with a fire and beds and a kitchen and a flushing loo, we will have a lovely time and we will pay the going rate for it.
But GLAMPING? Really? They want to charge you even MORE!
TO STILL STAY IN A TENT…
Unless you have a “perfect camping weather scenario” – a light breeze, gently scudding a few fluffy clouds across a bright blue sky, with a temperature range of 20-22 degrees (dipping only to 15/16 degrees at night) – you will be either staying in a freezing cold or unbearably airless, stuffy tent, regardless of how much money you have paid for it.
OK – someone else might have put that tent up for you before you got there, but is that really worth an extra £150+ a NIGHT? A NIGHT? Maybe it is to you. Maybe your hatred for tent “putting up” is worth the additional splash of cash. After all, it’s only 7 bottles of Bombay Sapphire a night more…but really – what ARE you doing with the time saved? Instagramming artful pictures of the bell tent that someone wanged a camp bed in and charged you through the nose for? #sawyoucoming
The whole point of camping is making the kids do annoying “getting back to basics” chores so they will be so full of hatred for you, that they will want to fuck off to the kids version of the pub (The Haybales) and leave you all in peace to drink and eat a ridiculous amount of crisps.
“Come here and hold this guy rope.”
“Get in that tent and blow your airbed up.”
“Oi! Those are NOT snacks for the children – HANDS OFF MY SWEET AND SALTY POPCORN!”
These are all things that you need to be shouting at your children, so that they get the full camping experience. They are not going to get that with a quinoa salad already waiting for them in the fridge in your tent.
Now, I have to admit here that I would quite like to go Glamping. I know, I know. But every time I look wistfully at the brochures or the quaint little caravans that remind me of Mr Toad from Wind in the Willows, I then compare the price list to that of a really, really nice swanky hotel. That has a pool. And no horseflies. And curtains.
I have friends who actively hate camping and all that it brings with it – no fridge, no hairdryers, shower blocks, no proper loos. None of the above bother me – well, they do, but not when I consider the trade-off.
Ridiculously happy children; throwing balls, grazing knees, getting headbutted by goats, discovering their independence, making new friends, getting covered in dirt (and not giving two hoots!) and learning how to entertain themselves without the help of the Disney channel. That’s worth all the tea in China (Or all the Orange Pekoe in Sri Lanka if you are a Glamper…)
So, if you can afford to Glamp, then Glamp – I’ll come if you’re paying. If not, then camp. Either way, your kids will be the better for it – yes even if it pisses it down with rain all the time and you’re all cold and tired and a bit bored. Because they never remember the rain. Just the fun and the times the sun peeked out, and the views and the fresh air and supermarket brand Capri Suns and the smell of burnt sugar.
And that you were altogether.
That is priceless – no matter how much you’ve paid for it.