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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
can't light the fire." Maggie suggested.
six-thirty in the morning there is nothing more casual than me, I sauntered
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
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.
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
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.
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.