Camping is unnatural. It’s a fraught state of affairs. It’s blighted and unnatural.
Here’s why - and every word is true.
1998 – Cromer (a bitterly cold pointless part of the UK)
There’s a man my age who most likely wakes up at night wondering if a nude photo of him is about to surface on the internet. 18 years ago he was in the shower the same campsite as me and by dint of the fact that he had the same trainers as me he ended up with a camera jammed under the stall door by 3 of my friends and a photo being taken from the floor up.
My friends then ran off cackling thinking they had just snapped a shot of me nude and proceeded to bump into me moments later by our tent. They did a double take and as they turned they saw a white faced guy dash from the stalls, dripping wet, head whipping every which way. He fled back to his tent and the next morning he was gone.
That night one of my friends ate a tea bag. The reason? He was 20 and someone had said “I dare you to.” During the night he threw it up in the middle of the tent.
1999 - Bournemouth (a bitterly cold pointless part of the UK)
There is a bag of white pills buried in a field.
The pills found their way into my pocket while we were at a nightclub on way too much Red Bull and Vodka. We were on a Stag / Bucks weekend for two grooms and we were 21 and ridiculous. We danced topless until bouncers told us to put our shirts back on. We were all freshly tattooed, pierced and long haired. Damn but we were.......twats.
At some point during the evening I felt someone bump into me, then saw two bouncers chasing a chap with lank sweaty hair. Being drunk I thought nothing more of it and later we staggered back to our tents ready to pass out, safe in the knowledge that being 21 hangovers were cured by a cup of tea.
In the morning I woke up to find pills scattered all around the tent. I looked down and saw them spilling out of my back pocket. Each had a little bird logo in the middle. Loaded with red bull paranoia I gathered them together and ran out of my tent, convinced the polite English version of the DEA was about to appear.
I scraped a hole in the ground with bare fingers and buried the pills in their air tight bag and went and sat in my car, ready to tear out of the campsite at the sign of the first flashing blue light.
And the aftermath of the stag / bucks weekend?
Of the 13 of us who went 3 returned home having made the leap from heterosexual to homosexual.
2003 - Nymboida River in NSW (a sun blasted alien landscape)
A little jut of land, trees, cask wine and no kids yet.
The first day there and I was shown a shovel for when I needed the toilet. Flies droned, the sun beat down, and my sister in laws dog snuffled around at everything. I delayed the moment where I would need the shovel for as long as I could until finally I marched off up the hill to find a secluded spot. Every secluded spot was draped in cobwebs or sparkling with potential snake scales.
Flies clustered on my face and t shirt, nudging at my lips for whatever moisture they could find. Finally deciding that one blighted dead spot of earth was as good as the next I dug a shallow hole and positioned myself uncomfortably.
Immediately the flies became Catholic Priests and started touching me inappropriately. The feeling of flies on your back side when you are trying to move a motion in bowel court is not one anyone should know.
Resolving to be done as swiftly as possible I sweated, focussed and wiped. I wondered if I could constipate myself through will alone for the next 5 days.
Finally I went to stand and being unused to this crouched fly blown posture I misjudged my balance – and fell backwards into my own pit toilet.
2004 - Barrington Tops NSW (a leafy place, almost seemed nice until…)
A lovely day reading. My wife lay on my blanket all day on the ground; I lay uncomfortably but tried to relax. My father in law lay unaware of rocks and stones and ants merrily reading and sipping wine.
Come tea time we needed a fire and my father in law went crashing into the bus singing to himself, snatching wood from everywhere and returning with a pile of the size of a shed. He called my wife over – Can you check my beard? I think there is a spider in it.
I went into the bush myself, hoping to find at least one piece of wood. I picked up a branch or two. A third one. I shook a spider off of a fourth one and then gave the branch back to the spider so as not to offend it. It watched me as I walked away and I watched it, so did not see the hole in the ground. I stumbled into it, seeing white paper and flies. I realised very quickly after stumbling that I had fallen into a previous campers pit toilet. So not content with falling into a pit toilet once, I had now done of for a second time but this time the shit was not my own.
Later we retired to bed. My wife gave me my blanket and she shrugged into her sleeping bag and commented – We’ll have to get you a sleeping bag one of these days – and promptly passed out. Drunk I passed out as well, and woke up shortly after shaking violently. I was freezing cold and incoherent. I sat up and pulled my knees to me, blowing my breath under the blanket to try and raise the temperature. My wife snored as I drew near death and I loathed her sleeping bag. I reached for the car keys, thinking that maybe it would be warmer in the car. I staggered out and went to the car, as I opened the door my wedding ring fell from my finger; I was so damn cold I was physically shrinking. I could feel my nipples starting to snap off. My teeth were shaking loose. I was an assortment of parts with the hinges breaking.
I sat in the car for ten minutes and started seeing wisps’ of light and hearing fairies giggling and grinding teeth at me. I went to my wife and woke her, stammering about dying and freezing and other such melodrama. She fetched her father - and indignity followed with him. He turned the car engine on, ran the heater and started packing me in his clothing. He put his shirts on my legs; he packed his trousers around my chest and then pulled two pairs of his boxers over my head. The shivering stopped as I warmed up, he clicked the engine off and I fell asleep, wrapped in everything my father in law owned and still wearing his boxer shorts on my head like a hat.
If anyone else has woken in the morning with their father in laws undies pulled down over their head and face please let me know so we can drink together.
2008 – Hell, NSW (Hell, hell, hell, hell)
We arrived at a place that I commented looked like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Sun blasted earth, desiccated trees, dry river bed and mad horses foaming and a feeling of abandonment, as though reason left a long time ago and left only despair.
We pulled up to a shack and climbed from the car, we had kids now and my son barrelled from the vehicle as I picked up my daughter. My father in law shouted cooee and the ranger came into sight. He had severe facial scaring and the Texas Chainsaw world lurched back at me.
My father in law commented that we’d like a spot by the water and before he could finish the faceless man snapped – I know what you want and you can’t have it. You camp near the river and those kids’ll die. I’ve seen it happen. They’ll die. You camp over there away from the water. If you don’t – there’ll be death.
He turned away and we camped where he had pointed. All night he played episodes of The Bill loudly from his shack of death, adding an additional scurrility to the scene as London Police sirens wailed and taunted me with urban murderous comfort.
Searching for firewood my then 3 year old son marched happily and assisted in dragging back tree trunks crawling with creatures the like of which Jules Verne could not have conceived. I carried small twigs and was complemented for finding kindling.
After that I largely withdrew from camping. My wife took the kids and I stayed home and wrote a book which was about living at a blighted sun scorched place previously owned by a man with no face and destroying it, burning it from the face of the planet. I charred away my horror and finished the book feeling purified.
The book almost got published, 5th out of 362 entries. The publishers told me though that they found the premise and the place slightly unbelievable. I tucked the manuscript away and hoped camping had been contained within it never to be seen again.
2011 – The Road, Victoria
My wife inflicted a road trip on me Christmas last year and we ended up at Wilsons Promontory. The part about our car dying on the 23rd December and the Ute I was forced to drive and such like I’ll leave out. Wilsons is stunning but I still managed to fall into a wombat hole in the pitch darkness. I was alone in the dark stuck in a hole hoping that the wombat wasn’t in it. I’d dropped the car keys as I fell, and my wallet, and had to find them by touch alone.
2012 – Scrap of dirt, NSW
I went camping a few months back without the wife. She was studying and there was a family meet up on a splint of land off a distant road by a river. I drove, got lost and finally found them and pitched the tent and lost all my tent pegs. Turns our they were under the tent I had just pitched but I wouldn’t know that until I took the tent down.
The kids immediately settled in to camp life, stripping and splashing in the river. I saw the shovel and knew this would be a weekend of not only digging holes for me to use but also digging them for the kids and crouching as they went so they didn’t fall over.
Toes found it hilarious going to Daddy Toilet.
2012 – Bents Basin NSW
Last weekend I went camping again, sans wife. This time it was with work mates. Leaving, I apologised to the kids in advance.
Bear – We know Dad, you’ll get lost and shout.
Me – I will mate.
I did. But I found the site and being there first I picked a spot under a tree and in 42 degree heat I put up the tents on my own while the kids heckled me for swimming time. Both tents up – they weren’t beautiful but they were up – I took the kids to the lake. They both jumped in, I waded in, and the heat of the day leeched away and I sank down quite content. We splashed around for an hour before heading back and finding my colleagues setting up.
I lit a fire and I had the strange moment of experiencing someone less adept at camping than me and having to tell them how to put up a tent. Shortly afterwards there was a cry of Yaahhhh ahhhhh oyyy shit as they saw the kind of spider I have become inured to.
I felt quite capable. I fed the kids, I had 2 tents standing, I had a beer and all was well.
The following day Bear burst into my tent at 5am with Angry Birds chortling on the iPad. I groaned but endured and was soon happily killing pigs with my Luke Skywalker Bird – the middle of no where with an iPad is easier.
The others woke up and one of my friends gave me bacon and a fried egg cooked in fried bread (considering I can barely cook beans when camping I found this remarkable) and I sipped tea and felt the day begin to sting heat wise.
We went to the lake and the kids threw themselves in and stayed there. I sat on the shore chatting and again thought maybe this isn’t so bad. We ate lunch, we smiled, we dwelt in a nice picturesque F Scott Fitzgerald like bubble of ‘just before’ – just before things went wrong.
Australia exists to bite you. Everything has teeth, I pointed out an ant to my less camping experienced then me friend and he shouted Wow oh bugger what the hell is that? The ant was about a centre metre long and had lengthy yellow teeth at the head end. If you listened closely you could hear its footsteps. Kookaburras sat in the trees with their meat shredding beaks. Spiders hung in the bushes with their teeth dripping.
All of it seemed less threatening to me though as for once there was someone there who was more intimidated than me. I even suggested we do a weekend camp at the place with no face so I could enjoy seeing someone more disturbed than I had been.
Post lunch we went back to the lake. The kids swam, I loosely watched my two from behind a book, and we chatted amiably about nothing much. In the water before us was something called a Bullrout fish. We didn’t know this, we didn’t know it had venomous spines on its back and its anus. What kind of creature needs anal spines?
My friend, who’d fed me bacon so who I liked even more than before, stepped into the water and the anus of the fish stabbed her.
A Bullrout sting – and she had three though we did not know what had stung her at that time – is spectacularly painful, with the patient being badly distressed, restless and often tearful. The pain worsened moment by moment and her distress grew. She said afterwards There was a point where I knew I was absolutely not OK and at that point I had to just give up and hope other people could take care of me. I hoped I could just pass out.
Her kids were frightened and asking if her foot would be amputated. The ambulance took an age to make its way to us. The rangers knew of nothing in the waters that could sting. The ambulance had no idea what it could be and the uncertainty added to the fear given a large percentage of Australia can kill you if you are within 1 metre of it.
Her foot was packed in ice and pressure bandaged and we waited for the ambulance. A local kiosk offered us free ice creams as by now we were dripping in sweat. My camping inexperienced friend ran repeated distances to hook up with the rangers and ambulance while his wife and I managed the six kids. Once the ambulance arrived they were as worried about him as they were about my fish footed friend. When it left all our mobile phones died due to low batteries and we had no way of getting updates on her condition. After 5 hours of being away and us trying to calm the kids and feed them she returned – with pain killers I can drink on.
So we drank.
The next morning I started packing while the kids still slept. Bear got up around 6am and I stripped his tent down. Toes slept on despite me removing the top sheet of her tent. She looked very cute with her bare bum sticking out, but I’m a dad therefore I am obliged to find those moments adorable.
I made sounds about packing up being in relation to a birthday party Bear had to get to but in reality I was fleeing. I wanted home; I wanted an indoor toilet and refrigerator. I wanted a shop round the corner that sold Vanilla Coke. We made our goodbyes and piled into the car.
Bear - Dad, how long until you are lost?
Me – I’m hoping not to get lost
Five minutes later
Bear – Dad?
Me – Yes mate?
Bear – You’re lost.
Me – I am mate.
Bear – You need the M5 Dad, to Sydney. Remember
Me – I do mate, I just don’t know which direction Sydney is in.
Bear – Dad, Mum doesn’t get lost, and she is good at parking the car.
Me – I know that Bear.
Toes – Yeah Dad, Mum is a better driver than you.
Me – Thank you darling.
Toes – And she has boobies too.
Both kids cackled about my wife’s boobies and I drove in circles for ages until finally I saw a sign for Sydney and floored it. Once I was pointed in the right direction I was home to the boobies within half an hour.
I love home