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"But they're only little children!" cried my mother, her vivid and horrific imagination already beginning to form living pictures of two torn and mutilated little bodies ravaged by stray bands of Corsican bandits. Her thinking being coloured by the last time she went to the cinema, or Picture Palace as it was then.

"They're only going to camp in the garden!" I protested. "They'll be perfectly warm," added my wife shrewdly.

Not wishing to cause dissent my mother bit back her fears and nodded palely, "Are you sure they'll be warm enough. It isn't really summer yet you know." she couldn't resist adding.

The warm Spring sunshine threw back the lie and shrieks of childish laughter stilled any further protest. Nevertheless the unspoken horrors lurked behind the worried eyes.

The whole idea had been born in one mad moment of burgeoning Spring life and a sudden awareness of how closely our two boys, aged seven and nine, were tied to our lives. "Cut the apron strings." I said, all white hunter and intrepid explorer. "They do need to be a little more independent." Added Maggie eagerly, having been assailed for the umpteenth time with that nerve jabbing cry of "What can we do?"

The fortunate acquisition of an as yet unused tent, courtesy of a give-away stamp company, gave the idea all the incentive it required.

Simply put, and what a ridiculous statement that is, we would let the boys camp in the orchard for one night to see how they got on and if they liked it to do it again…sometime…sometime in the very nebulous future. Convinced that as soon as they had finished their food, read their comics and had a punch-up the entire thing would be over and forgotten. All of which only proves how short we were on insight.

Four o'clock Friday afternoon brought the first intimation of exactly what we had unleashed. Two satchels flew through the front door accompanied by the announcement that we could keep the comforts of soft and riotous living, i.e., the Telly, as they were now going to live off the land. They would not, they swore, set foot in the house again…until Sunday night that is. That little plan was promptly scotched when their mother hauled them in to change into some old clothes. Their disgust for adults, parents in particular, achieved new and dizzier peaks.

Fortunately nothing could quite dull the pure gloss of actually having their own matches and being allowed to light their own fire.

Two boys who normally complain bitterly about having to tie their own shoelaces suddenly acquired vast resources of energy and rapidly had a fire going that a steel smelter might have envied. Nothing was sacred to their blunt axe and rusty saw. Only some very nimble footwork and strong language on my part saved the garden gate and a decrepit, but living, plum tree.

The fire did serve one useful purpose in that we consigned a lethal collation of berries to its flames before our resourceful, but ignorant, sons ate them.

The tent, finally rendered into a reasonable facsimile of what a tent should look like, bulged at the seams with sleeping bags, pillows, comics, raw bacon, frying pan, bread, cooking fat, chocolate, sweets, torch, wellington boots, sandwiches, sundry cutlery, coffee flask and that last link with mankind, the teddy bear. In the centre of this abundance, drooling over the chocolate tin, sat our dog, a noisy, lunatic Jack Russell terrier.

Having spent many years struggling to get them to bed at a reasonable hour the sudden switch to them wanting to go to bed at 5.30 in the afternoon is a little breathtaking. Fortunately the attractions of their own fire remained unexhausted and they managed to restrain themselves for another full half-hour. Finally, to shrieks of laughter and friendly body blows, they crawled into their sleeping bags, arraigned their goodies about them and settled down to enjoy the thrills of a new world.

Granny, my mother, having extracted sworn-on-the-bible, cross-your-heart-and-hope-to-die promises that we would leave the front door open all night with the porch light on and that we would let the dog stay with them for protection - which was a laugh, because if anyone needed protecting it was our dog! - she departed reluctantly to her own home muttering, I have no doubt, something about cruel and hard-hearted parents. Maggie and I made bets as to what ungodly hour she would choose to telephone in the morning to find out if they'd gone down with pneumonia.

By seven o'clock the bonfire had subsided to a mere blaze, they were asleep, Granny had telephoned and been reassured that all was well.

It does get a little chilly at night and at nine o'clock the dog slunk in and stretched out in front of the fire. The dog's expression said quite plainly that a joke was a joke but let's not get ridiculous.

Naturally we both checked that they were alright because oddly it did seem to be much colder that particular night, quite a frost in the air almost. I won't say that I was worried, but I didn't want a couple of brave chaps sitting out there blue with cold and afraid to come in because their father might laugh at them.

I know that there is such an hour as six in the morning because I have, in my heady youth, often gone to bed at that hour, but awakening at that time is definitely not one of my habits. I stared at the bright sunlight pouring through the window, "Can't see any smoke." I said.

"Perhaps they can't light the fire." Maggie suggested.

Casually, at six-thirty in the morning there is nothing more casual than me, I sauntered outside.

"Need any…."

A blazing fire met my eyes and with perfect throwaway timing our eldest son informed me that they had cooked and eaten breakfast, washed up, cleaned the tent out, folded everything up, made sandwiches and were just going on a hike. Leaving me nothing to say except, "Oh… er… good."

I got the distinct impression that I was very much surplus to requirements. I also felt very old and out of it. Wiping the dew from my nose I slunk indoors, berated Maggie for worrying needlessly and got back into bed. The fact that my extensive knowledge of camping and woodcraft, culled from brief flirtations with the cubs and boys brigade, was not required, indeed that they had managed very well without it, hurt like hell. Maggie laughing fit to bust did nothing for the low state of my morale.

So put out was I about not being able to share the glory of camping for the first time that, on their return, I rather huffily insisted on everyone accompanying me to the library to change their library books.

Whilst we were away my mother rang every five minutes. Her conviction that the entire family had been carried off by ravening wolves deepening by the second. We returned just in time to prevent her from calling out the police, the fire brigade and the armed forces of the country.

Another crisis struck immediately. Tired of simply burning things on an ordinary bonfire, however big, our adventurers collected some hay from the barn, spread it around, set fire to it and played fire fighters and forest fires! My reputation as a spoilsport was generously enriched as I stamped out the conflagration.

My unfair attitude to the joys of camping took some of the fun out of the whole thing and they decided to consult with a higher authority. Their mother, equally adamant about their fire fighting activities, zeroed in popularity and our two arsonists stamped off in disgust.

From that moment the adventure lost its sparkle. The fact that the ensuing night was also the coldest for some time properly put the sparkle out. By six o'clock the next morning they were back in their own beds cheerfully reading their comics and refusing to get up.

Camping is one thing, comfort is another and never the twain shall meet.

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