Camping: Never. Again (until next week).

Camping. It’s basically just wiping toilet seats, dry retching, eating crisps and arguing, isn’t it? How many times in one holiday can you say “You CAN’T want a wee again already?” or “Have you finished yet?” or “Don’t go in THAT one!” or “You’re not hungry because you’ve eaten eight bags of crisps,” or “We can’t stay together if you think this is a holiday.” Precious moments spent choosing between the shower cubicle with dead flies or the knot of thick hair. The dry retching into the sink as you clean your teeth. The omnipresent smell of cooked egg. We camped for the first time as a family a couple of weeks ago.

It started well. Before check in we’d had a really splendid lunch at The Watch House cafe in nearby West Bay, a place famous for Broadchurch. Our tent was erected in sunshine and as we watched a glorious sunset a group of fun-looking people were kicking off a huge BBQ. WW leaned in, pointed to a lovely, be-shawled, wind-swept, smiley woman wearing the EXACT SAME red sandals as me, and said “She either lives in our village or she’s on TV.” “SHE’S ON TV” I assured him, recognising her deep guffaw as Kerry Godliman, who played the truly wonderful Hannah in Ricky Gervais’s Derek. Comedy gold, a red sun, a bottle of wine and my comedian-endorsed red sandals!

I practiced casually nodding and saying “Nice shoes” for the next three days, a killer line I failed to use as our bladders/bowels/ablutions/dirty dishes failed to synchronise. But the children were making friends with Kerry’s kid in an adjacent playground, and I was planning our future dinner parties with Ricky Gervais, we had pasta on the boil and all was well. I sipped Pinot Grigio alone, in the tent. The wind was beginning to get a bit, shall we say, flappy, as WW chased the children round a freezing pitch black patch of grass with a ball.

The next day, the driving rain was fierce, and cold, and sideways and yet WW leapt out of the tent and began cooking sausages and tomatoes to absolute perfection, his face being lashed by the rain. Not one to sit back and let someone else do all the work, I reached into the bag for some sliced bread. Unfortunately the bread had been in the cool bag with the ice that had now melted. It flopped down into our plates like a wet sponge. We cleared it all away and forgot to make a cup of tea.

Later, in the playground, my glands throbbing and my throat smarting, I overheard two men talking about a dog that had run off the edge of the cliff a week prior. “Lethal up there,” they were saying, gruffly. An air of doom started to descend, followed by a clanging headache. “Let’s go swimming!” said WW, pointing to the indoor pool we were fortunate enough to have on site. Everyone loves a public swimming pool right? Especially one with a one-in-one-out policy, that lets half your family in with your whole family’s swimming stuff, leaving you standing in the changing room with nothing to change into. I had to creep fully-clothed round the edge of the pool, ignoring the “Only swimming costumes to be worn beyond this point” sign and knock on the men’s changing rooms to retrieve my costume.

And who doesn’t like swimming pools that have no lockers so you have to put all your lovely dry clothes into a damp plastic container and store it on a shelf at the edge of the swimming pool, causing you to drop your partner’s boxer shorts on the wet floor as you leave the pool only for him to shout “My pants are wet!” at you as you scurry back to the changing rooms, hiccuping back tears? The tears weren’t because of the wet pants, no, I couldn’t care less about his wet pants, but because once we were all in the pool, I started to feel really, really strange. I had burnt my wrist on the oven at home a few days before and the burn turned bright yellow in the pool. I could see people eyeing my neon wound with suspicion and I immediately diagnosed myself with septicaemia. All around me were families throwing each other in the air and teaching the correct breaststroke technique and laughing, and I was swilling around in their chlorinated bum scum which I was suddenly convinced would be the last conscious experience of my 44 years here on earth.

And there it was again, the line so often muttered when we go to a public swimming pool. “I’ve got to get out of here,” I said to WW. “I’ll ask reception where the nearest doctor is.” As some sort of karmic payback for wet pants-gate, I got to the showers to discover I hadn’t brought my bag with my clean clothes and my shampoo in it. I had to climb back into my now wet old leggings and stretchy top, now festooned with strangers’ pubic hair, and return to the tent, in the rain, to retrieve my bag, before returning to the shower block with murder in mind. I washed away some of the torment and felt calmer as we drove to the nearest pharmacist who told me to visit the Minor Injuries Unit. I told WW to drop me there and go and get the kids some lunch as I’d undoubtedly have a wait on my hands. So off they went into Bridport and I was told I had an hour’s wait. An hour to myself sitting in a warm in a chair. This was only now becoming a holiday. I saw a man walking back to his chair with a cup of tea, at the exact time as I realised I’d left my purse in the car.

Exactly a parched hour later a nurse rolled up her sleeves to reveal an arm of oven burn scars similar to mine. “Ah, I know all about these,” she chirruped, before glancing at my luminous throbbing wrist and saying “That’s normal healing. Have a nice rest of your holiday.” Back in the car WW was in a stew. “What a waste of time, we’re going home tomorrow,” he said.  “No we’re not, we’re going home the following day,” I corrected him before realising I should have kept my mouth shut. But then he pointed to the footwell and said “Your lunch is down there,” and as I reached down and peeled back some paper to reveal some cold chips and curry sauce, I knew this holiday wasn’t over yet. “Charmouth now, for fossils!” he announced. On arrival, BUB.3 had fallen asleep in the car. “Oh no, what a shame,” I said. “She must be tired from sleeping in the tent, I’ll have to stay with her.” I was already winding my seat back and putting my feet on the dashboard before I finished the sentence. I watched their distant figures holding buckets and running towards the sea and back again and I gently closed my eyes to sleep. Which I did, for forty blissful minutes.

The day ended well, with a lovely meal in Lyme Regis. Blog posts could be written about our sea edge location, the wonderful behaviour of our children, the delicious food we consumed. But that’s for another day (never). The night ended with me taking a wee in a crab bucket that leaked, someone opposite us tent being completely flattened by the wind, and overhearing the Dad in the tent next to ours shouting to his sniggering kids: “I can STILL smell it!”

The next morning we decided to have breakfast in the onsite restaurant to reduce the risk of wet bread. We went for Eggs Benedict and Eggs Florentine, both of which arrived on untoasted bagel, dripping wet with egg juice. Nevermind, we’re here for fossils, not dry bread, we thought and sped off to Seatown, a beautiful spot on the Dorset Coast. Parking by the incredibly well-positioned Anchor Inn I went into order myself a cup of tea, leaving them to make a head start on the fossil hunting. It was a heavenly five minutes to myself.

Fully braced, we walked along the pebbled beach and fished out ammonites and rocks that looked like animals (a teddy bear! A whale!) before heading to Lyme again to spend the children’s spending money. Up and down the high street parents were all having the EXACT same conversation. “The toys were rubbish, they were better in the WHSmiths, let’s go there.” and “Next time shall we just camp in the car park of Smyths toy store?” We finally emerged with a Nemo bracelet, a marble egg and a fossil, a rich trawl compared to some of the rubber items we had been presented with. Relief flooded us, the children were happy, so back to West Bay for an ice cream…and crabbing. What? It was wet, cold and windy but, to my delight, it seemed that yet more fun was to be had. I strode off to buy a new crabbing bucket and we stood in the rain fishing crabs out of the harbour. “This is just the BEST most awesome day,” said BUB.1. It was awesome, I had a morning cup of tea, fish and chips for dinner and just as we were all dropping off to sleep, we were treated to the audio of a fantastically brutal war film being watched at full blast from a nearby tent that had arrived earlier that day.

Before our departure from the campsite the next morning, I showered with BUB.3 and as she was getting dressed she shouted: “Mum, what’s that red thing on your pants?” Her voice echoed around the shower block for all to hear. “It’s Elmo darling,’ I responded, looking at my “novelty” Elmo knickers. I had to stop myself following up with:”Hey everybody in the shower block, I’m a  44-year old woman with a big red Elmo on my pants, I’m not having my period. In case ya’ll were wondering!”

I don’t know if there’s been a lower point in my existence but I’ll find out this week. We’ve just booked to go camping in West Wales for four nights.

 

 

 

 

 

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Mud pies and rose-petal perfume

You see them get lost in their own world. It is THE world. This is a world you cannot create for them, or buy tickets for, but one into which you must just gently shove them.

trampScary Mommy got it right. In her post ’10 Ways to Give Your Kid a 1970’s Kind of Summer’ she called it. Every. Single. Thing. Apart from number 4 and 5, because my children are too young. But apart from that. Rock on.

I’ve written about this before in Lazy Pig. The idea that an endless search for stimulating activities and mind-developing, memory-making, instagram-worthy endeavours, might in fact be robbing our children of the one thing they need the most. The need to weave, out of the everyday, the ordinary, the mundane, something magic.

For weeks now, everywhere we go, we are subjected to a soundtrack of BUB.1’s whine “I want to go home.” We could take him to the beach, Legoland, the moon, he’d want to go home. And that’s flattering and it’s fine. So this half term, we have spent half the week playing with his cousins near Manchester and the second half flopping around the house. Literally, ricocheting from one meal to the next, from fighting to laughing, TV on, back door open, toys strewn, socks OFF.

All I have heard is squeals of laughter. No one has moaned, complained or wished they were somewhere else. Today, Sunday, the last day of the break, they didn’t even change out of their pyjamas. BUB.2 wandered around with a very 1970s blackcurrant squash moustache for much of the day. We caught up with homework, we managed to get the stuff in the loft that has been clogging up a bedroom for weeks, WW bought a drill, we pottered. We caught our breaths.

There have been highs (butterflies emerging from their cocoons – thank you Insect Lore), and there have been lows (many many many many many spilled drinks).

For much of the week, we are all apart. One at school, one at preschool, one at work. Sometimes I don’t want to spend this precious time together packing bags, driving, finding toilets, looking for change for parking, saying over and over again “Come on, we can go home soon, just try to enjoy yourself. OK, WHO WANTS AN ICE CREAM?”

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One of my happiest childhood memories is lying in the garden with my Dad, side by side on our sun loungers, chatting about the universe.  And making rose-petal perfume with my friend Sarah. Bouncing a ball against a wall. Riding my bike around and around the same bit of path. I don’t remember feeling like I was missing anything.

Whenever I try to spoon feed my children “fun” activities, they tend to look at me like I’m insane. But watch for 30 seconds while they play with some friends their own age (or not even their own age, or not even humans, sometimes just a bug on the path) and you see them get lost in their own world. It is THE world. This is a world you cannot create for them, or buy tickets for, but one into which you must just gently shove them.

Earlier today we were talking about going back to school tomorrow and BUB.2, my preschooler, said “I don’t want to, I like staying home best,” to which I replied “But you’ll have fun with your friends and anyway I’ll pick you up at 3 o’clock!” His heartbreaking response was: “Can you pick me up at zero o’clock instead Mummy?”

So over the summer, when I see all the posts about fun activities and ideas to keep the kids amused, I’ll just sling them my old rusty muffin tin and tell them to make mud pies while I watch from the open back door, clutching a cider ice lolly.

 

 

 

Cuddle Fairy