Camping hazards and remedies

2013-01-07 09:25

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After 30-odd years of camping anywhere from sunburned 1970s Margate with a gaggle of cousins, to snow-bound 1980s Mont Aux Sources with the Howick Cub Scouts, I have one or two pieces of hard-won advice I feel I can impart, writes Tim Jones.

Your Two-Year Guarantee Store

What is it about the camping Jo'burger that makes them want to recreate a complete Roodepoort three-bedroom house and braai area in any campsite they arrive at? Mountain Sanctuary Park's campground looked like an explosion in Morkels Furniture store the last time I visited. Pilanesberg was not much better - a vast tented camp, stretching off to the distance, lit by braai fires and the blue glow of portable TV screens.

Drums and Soy Burgers

The vegan Eco-warriors are no better. Go to Rustlers' Valley or Splashy Fen during any druid solstice, or folk music festival to see the great tie-dyed, unwashed knee-deep in mud, nibbling charred veggie burgers or huddled round drum circles that echo the circular wagon lagers of a regrettably bygone, happily less permissive age.

Neither the SUV weekend warriors nor the VW Kombi hippies camp in the style I'd consider worth leaving warm baths, fast Internet, or any other of the mod cons I hold dear.

Booby Traps

Firstly, the hazards of camping. I think we can all agree that the most dangerous aspect of any nighttime campsite are not bolshie elephants, flash floods, or lightning strikes, but other campers' guy ropes. These cunning, malevolent little tripwires make any walk to the ablution block an egregious obstacle course. Nobody likes answering the call of nature in the wee hours only to stumble as your ankles get garroted by these pesky little booby-traps.

Two-Legged Adverts for Birth Control

Public-Enemy Number Two are definitely OPKs (Other Peoples Kids). While your lovely children are the rightful centre of a well-ordered, benign universe, Other People's Children… are not, as evinced by stray soccer balls knocking over your gin and tonic, blood-curdling giggles of roving Tok-Tokkie gangs of 10-year-olds and feral teenagers hunting in packs for leftover cider and mom's Craven A cigarettes. Unsupervised children en masse can cast a rather Lord of the Flies pall over the most well-intended, adamantly bucolic Little House on the Prairie caravanning getaway in the Drakensberg.

Don’t Leave Home Without Them

Now you’re alerted to the two most happiness-threatening hazards of tented communities, let's consider the basic equipment of any seasoned camper, the five items you simply can't do without.

1. A big, big tent. Anything too small to allow a full game of badminton is a waste of time. Your tent should include two bedrooms, a spacious kitchen, study, and if possible, a cellar with DSTV and Xbox, where the kids can be neither seen nor heard for the duration of your stay.  If the guy ropes or OPKs are too much to handle, you can join the kids in the den and order in Pizza for the duration of your stay.

2. The best car in the world. Something you can pack to bursting, that will handle in the wet or dry, soak up punishment like a Springbok rugby front row, and corner faster than a Formula One car. Opinions differ on the primacy of Land Rover versus Land Cruiser - but both of these pale next to a cheap rental car and a devil may care attitude to the rules of dirt road driving. Whatever size, make, or colour is immaterial.

3. Red meat. Lots of it. Don't bother with baked potatoes, mielies, greens or salad- for the average South African palate, those are merely tiresome, fiddly garnish that get in the way of a good steak. And while left over fillet makes great beef and mustard sandwiches the next morning, no one ever woke up craving cold potato salad for breakfast.

4. Ice. Tons. All the time. A good single malt on the rocks is the cornerstone of civilization. Warm gin and tonics, tepid whiskeys, and other crimes against humanity can all be avoided with a gas-powered icemaker.

5. Lastly, a torch, preferably bought from British army surplus. A hand-searchlight strong enough to pinpoint a wing of Luftwaffe bombers at 15,000 feet above wartime London.

Westminster Abbey and a Hand-Held Religion

So, to recap all you really just need, are: a tent the size of Westminster Abbey, a car that's not your own, about 40 head of cattle in braai chops, enough ice to scupper the Titanic, and a torch that would be a deity in the Stone-age. As for guy ropes and OPKs, you’re on your own.

Happy camping.

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