The best thing about the onset of summer? Getting to break out the tent.
My boys and I are enthusiastic campers. We aren’t terribly good, or terribly lucky campers, but we do have the enthusiasm down. And we are hoping that if we camp often and fervently enough… we’ll end up getting good at it. Hopefully, soon.
Yup, I’ll be the first to admit that there has been the odd occasion where we may have made a few camping mistakes. Oh, all right. We make so many mistakes that we have devised a kind of rhythm.
“Right,” I’ll say to Andreas and the sons when we arrive at our camping spot. “Let’s find out what we forgot to bring.” This is one of our favourite camping games and can last most of that first evening.
“Ha! I have got one!” Joey will shriek at around 6pm. “A braai grid! We forgot to bring the braai grid!”
I’ll pat Joey on the head.
“Well noticed, son,” I’ll say. “Let’s see, that rather puts paid to the chicken kebabs for dinner, doesn’t it? Never mind. We are going to have to find sticks for the sausages again and abandon trying to cook the potatoes.”
“Ha!” shrieks Ben. “I’ve got another one! We forgot the sausages!”
And so on. It’s a fun, interactive problem-solving kind of camping game, which we all tend to enjoy. (Other than, of course, the Toilet Paper Disaster of 2004.)
And that’s just the packing fun and games. Who knew there were so many ways for a tent to fall down? I don’t know what it is about us… I think we actually erect quite a sturdy tent. Andreas is a geologist after all, who has pitched his share of tents everywhere from a nice flat bit of sand outside Nairobi, which turned out to be part of a golf course (“Hey! Get off our brown!”), to marshy places all over Europe. He does cunning asymmetrical things with the guy ropes and everything.
It’s just that we also seem terribly unlucky with the weather when we are camping. It ALWAYS pours with rain as soon as we get our pegs out. And once everything’s wet, a gale force wind will come up from nowhere and, like the Big Bad Wolf, will do its best to blow our tent down. (At least that’s what we told the boys the first time. Bit of advice? Children are not best comforted in a storm, when you liken that storm to a large, frightening, carnivorous wild animal trying to get hold of someone to eat.)
Where are the tents?
Once we went camping with a lot of friends and a large, inflatable movie screen and a bunch of cool old movies on projector. Sounds fabulous, doesn’t it? Pity they jinxed the trip by inviting us.
By the time we had managed to get the screen out of the impossibly high tree, someone noticed that our little field of tents was entirely flat.
“Where did the tents go?” I asked, horrified. I had left my sons tucked up under a borrowed Spiderman duvet (we’d forgotten the inflatable mattress and the sleeping bags) in our tent.
That was actually our luckiest moment. While our child-free friends had to spend the rest of that wet and windy night trying to find bits of their tents in bushes all over the farm they had landed at, we got to keep our tent fabric pretty much in one piece. Our children had acted as a weight, so while all the poles had snapped, our sons had been shrink wrapped in the tent itself, which was pleasingly still stuck to the ground where we left it.
See? It seems we were saving all our luck up for one occasion. Which gave us hope. Which is why, this very weekend, we are packing up our tent (which is now more patch than tent, really) and heading out for the hills again. Ah, the joys of another summer camping trip lie ahead.
Who knows what we’ll forget this time?
How do you like to spend time off with your family?
First appeared in Life Magazine.
Read more by Sam Wilson