Rain rain – when you go away…

The wettest holiday ever – well nearly; that was in Biarritz a decade and a bit ago. Still two glorious sunny days in Cornwall fooled us into thinking it was summer… It then rained unremittingly, both there; and then on our French campsite this week. 

Yesterday we called it a day; fighting the family holiday ‘sunk cost fallacy’. This was best captured in an overheard quote, during my own childhood, which became our family standard: 

“We’ve paid for it, so you will enjoy it.”

But we did ok. We all mucked in: cycling in the teeming rain, wedging into a crowded crèperie, feasting on rotisserie chickens, washing pots and pans and squelching through bogs to the bogs. 

But, facing another uninterrupted day of pouring rain, ‘practical reasonableness’ kicked in. Aquinas would have been proud…

We checked out our options, discussed it en famille and concluded, as they say en français: “on se casse” – we’re off. And a mere seventeen hours later: four solid London brick walls, a proper roof and a warm comfy 3am bed…

Family holidays can be memorable for all sorts of reasons. Rain ensured this wasn’t a classic. But sticking together through the soakings, meant, it was a good one all the same.

Deux Mille Treize

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Early start
Car packed out
Road hit squarely
Awake barely
Channel tunnel
Bridges and viaducts
Coffee machines and petrol stops
A1 French roads
Reduce down to
Salt pans and mussels
Over water
Paradise lost
Paradise found
Dream campsite
Canvas, clams and camp loos
Washing up and hammocks
Sun, sea and cycling
Then en route encore
To sunflowers and cooling towers,
Overnight stop in
Rural splendour, with mozzies and Aussie
Toulouse trek
Arizona valley
The long and winding road
To
Swimming pool, shutters and searing sun
Pain, cheese and ham
Bendy roads and supermarkets
Barbecues and rosé
Hot and bitten, but not bothered
Splashing and laughing
Pink, then pinker then browned
Before lassitude and food fatigue set in
Le depárt
Massif drive and sick bags full to
Paris, pool and parking
Kir, Cupole and walking
Metro, dodo
Tour Eiffel and boat trip
Montmartre then long marche
Auchan, duck and Chunnel
“I spy something beginning with…”
Cars.
Blighty, black clouds, driving rain
Before Home, sweet same old Home
Triumph, acclaim, then bedtime
A fine vintage
Deux Mille Treize

The Longer View

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Camping up a hill in Devon you can’t help but take the longer view. Hills that have been there forever. The toil – even in the modern mechanised era – in taming and working the land.

Life is defined by sunrise and sunset and the fullest of moons. It made me think. I spend too much time staring at small text-laden screens and far too little looking at the bigger picture.

There is good evidence that short-sightedness is exacerbated by the eye not getting frequent enough opportunity to resolve to the infinite horizon. My eyes hurt when we first arrived. I couldn’t comfortably view the tree line – it felt like a strain.

Put the iPhone away (nowhere to charge it) and in a day or two my eyes were comfortably drawn to the hills and distant pastures – retuned to their natural state.

There are perhaps four more summers before my little family starts to fragment. Maybe only four more times we’ll pitch and strike our tent, in that farm field with friends and their kids.

For all the packing and unpacking, fetching and carrying, cooking and scrubbing, it is hard to imagine that it won’t go on forever. The trees, the meadow of buttercups, the hills and streams. All green, verdant and full of life…

And in one day back in the big city forgotten and distant. After a week at work, a world away.

The longer view, the far horizon and the here and now. I work too hard, for enough money but too little thanks. I should change my focus or soon I will need a different plan.

Bear Necessities

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This picture – drawn by my daughter – melted my heart and sums up my week. It captures the beguiling mix of sleepiness, size and sheer cuddliness of the Giant Panda. Like the °0° koala, there is nothing in nature cuter than the right type of bear.

I, for my part, have been much more the sore-headed variety of bear. Plenty of reasons to be grizzly at work and robbed of the hope of weekend hibernation – by the prospect of Spring camping in the cold and rain. But a sneek peek at this picture has cheered me up on at least half a dozen occasions.

The sleepy panda adorned her school campaign poster to save the benighted black and white bear. But the latest thinking says forget ‘enigmatic species’ and save ecosystems if you want conservation – bamboo forests are the thing to focus on, not the coy, inscrutable and often unsuccessful pairings of pandas in zoos.

So perhaps the tree in the picture is as important as the adorable bear hanging off it. Whatever the truth, this picture has made me – and by sharing it – a good few other people smile this week. Perhaps now a few more.

Jubilee Camping

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Jubilee camp
Periodically damp
Some sun
Decent fun
Well fed
And some early beds
Good group
A sizeable troupe
The final night
Clear and bright
By the fire side
A beacon spied
And a firework spray
At the end of the day
But this is Devon
And so opened the Heavens
A pouring morning
Puddles forming
Packing up completely wet
Always was a likely bet
Home James
Back to the Thames
Unloading
Unfolding
Hanging
Draping
Of sodden stuff
That’s quite enough
So a glass of red
And an early bed
A good time it’s been
God save the Queen
But let’s not do it again
Until she’s 110.

Keeping the home campfires burning

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April fools under canvas
Sunlit striking
Followed by lightning
Humans huddle
Around a smoky campfire
Back to basics
Hot and cold comforts
Austerity Britain
Keeping afloat with the Joneses
Unseasonal camping confirms
Keeping warm
With friends and family
Is all.

Despite my diffidence, we were early out of the traps for camping this year. Forecasts (realised) of thunder storms and temperatures of 2 degrees C were enough to deter six out of seven families on our first night – but not us.

Joined at midnight by family number two and then plucky three and four on the second day, it was initially very wet, then cold, then bright and breezy. In a man-made return to pre-history, a fire makes it bearable.

And once the kids are off to bed, with a glass of something warming in hand, there’s a camaraderie about camping which brings out the best in people. Everyone’s struggling a bit in this recession, but we’re keeping the home and camp fires burning.

Shower

20110718-105113.jpgMan – and woman – in the state of nature is not a pretty sight. Obsessed with feeding and drinking, scavenging for firewood, alternately soaked then sweating. Feral children career about, bumping and thumping each other. Sleep snatched fitfully as the elements do their worst. Not much contemplation here.

What, I ask myself, is the purpose of camping? I may never know. Csikszentmihalyi might posit a ‘rude’ form of ‘flow’. But I’m pretty sure Aristotle wouldn’t have rated it. Certainly not in England’s all too green, and, for much of this weekend, not very pleasant lands. Apparently there was a moment where the entire land surface of Great Britain was simultaneously being rained on. Certainly we were.

I found myself short of temper and shorter of humour. Only Dionysius with his warming grapes and a crackling campfire lifted my spirits. An extra thick sleeping bag and two angelic faces snoring next to me helped too. The family unit held together.

The high point was packing the tent. Both for the manly ‘flow’ I achieved as I dismantled, folded and rolled it and the several nods of recognition for getting it into its bag in one go. More though for what it signified – going home to civilisation.