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.